I was very fortunate to be on a panel celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the fabulous online journal, Brevity, at this year’s Associated Writing Programs conference. I joined Beth Ann Fennelly, Daisy Hernandez, Heather Sellers, Ira Sukrungruang, and founding editor Dinty Moore for a reading of flash creative nonfiction and some thoughts on the genre itself. As I was in my post last week, I was interested in talking about how my flash cnf is so often tonally driven.
When I write essays like the ones in Brevity—essays of fewer than 750 words—I sometimes use a communal voice to capture aspects of a particular culture or place, whether it be a neighborhood, a home, a church, a school, a barber shop, etc. I like to think about the sounds I heard in those places: local radio commercials, colorful expressions, the voices of specific people. I’ve always thought that a writer’s voice comes in part from the voices that surrounded him or her in childhood, a chorus of voices rising up from various communities and institutions, and in part from the individual voice speaking either in concert with those communal voices or in resistance to them.
The texture we create, when different voices rub together, provides the conflict crucial to the quick exploration of subject matter and character. In flash, there’s often not enough time and space to rely on the reflective voice common to longer essays. I like to see what meaning I can create from the tensions between the communal and the individual. This approach demands that I stay in the moment—the lyric moment where the concrete details and the careful arrangement of words, tone, and voice become crucial to the flash’s success.
I’ll close by providing links to the pieces of flash creative nonfiction that Beth Ann, Daisy, Heather, Ira, and I read on this panel, along with my thanks to Dinty who created this fabulous journal that continues to be such an important forum for countless writers who practice this flash form as well as a crucial text for those of us who teach.