An Audience with the Don
by Holly Vanderhaar
In 1997, Vanity Fair's James Wolcott pejoratively referred to Lee Gutkind as "the Godfather behind creative nonfiction." Though it wasn't Wolcott's intention, his dismissive remark brought Gutkind and the genre to the awareness of countless Vanity Fair readers, and as we all know, there's no such thing as bad publicity.
Gutkind started America's first MFA program in creative nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh, and is the founder and editor of the literary journal Creative Nonfiction. He has written or edited twelve books, most recently Almost Human: Making Robots Think (2007).
I had the opportunity to work with him last spring at Arizona State University, where he was the Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Thanks to Lee, I came away with a new awareness of the importance of structure, and a new mantra: "The building blocks of creative nonfiction are scenes.â€? I recently chatted with him about immersion journalism, MFA programs, and the role of the internet in the genre of creative nonfiction.