Rediscovering Creative Non-Fiction

Harrison Scott Key Picture - KiaraKey is excellent at producing a smile or one of those laughs that slip out unexpectedly. His work has that quality to it that grandparents, or an older relative contains in which you want to know everything about their words and their stories, and that essence is especially strong in his memoir: The World’s Largest Man.

Within his memoir, Key recalls growing up with family from the Mississippi and breathing in Memphis—and all the unusual characters that make up his life. He shows us his “questionable” family make-up and his ponderings regarding if the universe had gotten everything wrong and he actually belonged to a different family. It’s relatable, yet the fictional progression of the story leaves you yearning to know about Key’s particular set of circumstances. Creative nonfiction is an overlooked medium of writing, though Key has made me appreciate the form again. I’ve recently gone back to my fiction roots, and I’m learning new elements to the craft and I adore how much of it is intertwined in Key’s work.

I knew that creative non-fiction and memoirs could be compelling when done right, and Key has me itching to write some of my own childhood memories and left me wondering what’s going to happen in my future that I can painfully and comically write down. I only was able to read excerpts of The World’s Greatest Man and I’m completely surprised at how it has changed my perspective and sparked an interest in type of writing I thought I didn’t need.

That’s what writing is supposed to do though. I constantly forget that the written word can change your perspective which is something funny and “shocking” to say, considering I am a well, writer. But I think that when I do have these realizations I’m once again amazed and I fall in love with writing and I can be in awe of its magnitude.

I am so happy I got to experience, even if just a taste, of Key’s work. The diction itself is enough to keep one compelled. There’s a bluntness in the words, as well as a child like wish to know more tangled in with that slight dissatisfaction and fondness of life. It’s complex, even within the first few pages. The specificity of the details drive the memoir forward, as if Key was trying to grasp every piece of his memories to make them as cohesive and beautiful as possible. I think that I also try to achieve a similar voice within my own work as Key and that’s what drew me in deeper to his own story.

Even into the acknowledgments page, the voice there is in ways who I saw before and very, truthful, and it’s poetic too. I think in our heads, there are specific genres and it’s hard to see the elements of others mixed up in it but it makes me so happy I perused writing because it’s a constantly discovery playground.

Key has the wit and cleverness to make anyone turn up the corners of their mouth, it’s bound to happen and it cannot be denied and it’s so perfect to know that in every way that someone can still do that to you when you’re wrapped up in the mundane aspects of life.

-Kiara Ivey, Junior Layout Editor

Beginnings and Endings

Jacob's PictureIt’s the beginning of the new year and that means we at Elan have begun our preparations for the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival. We’ve been collecting excerpts from our distinguished guest writers and posting these with their biographies on the Festival website,

All of the reading I’ve been doing for the Festival excites me, as it does all of my peers, all of my teachers. Reading the work of a new writer is always exciting, but it’s even more exciting when you know that the writer is coming to your school and reading the same pieces to you, discussing how they were written and how you can write better. It reminds us that the Writers’ Festival is part of a great tradition that generations of Creative Writers have taken part in. Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol-Oates, Billy Collins, and Richard Ford have all been keynote speakers in past festivals, and now we have the privilege to hear from more amazing writers.

For the first time in Festival history, we have two keynote speakers—the nationally recognized educator and novelist Ron Carlson and President Obama’s own inaugural poet, Richard Blanco. We’ve entered a new era of the Festival, where we’re big enough to expand the stage for speakers.

I am reaching the end of my time at DA, but I am able to be part of the Writers’ Festival this one time, and being part of its beginning is almost enough to make up for the pain of leaving it all behind.

-Jacob Dvorak, Senior Fiction Editor

Community Through Writing

Logan Blog Post PictureI will never forget the day I was accepted into Douglas Anderson as a freshman, a fresh teenager, a creative writer. I expected to learn about imagery or symbolism or whatever colleges were looking for at that point, but didn’t anticipate how important a community can be towards honing my writing skills. The experience that I have gained as a result is nothing short of invaluable.

Class activities were surrounded by group critiques and group discussions. When my submission was accepted into Élan, I was offered a glimpse into the inner workings of the magazine, and the staff who critiqued my piece to help it get to the place it needed to be. I saw a force that was indestructible: teamwork at its finest. This, I thought. This is what I want to have.

And so the years have offered me such as I have wanted. If I need help with a piece due the next morning, I can text a classmate and they will offer me points for revision. If I need help with a piece I have written on my own time, I come to the same group. And, with my entry into the Élan staff, I have found the community of editors to be all I desired and more. There is always help offered, and there is always a person at your side who understands.

It is a horrible feeling, to think of a future where I do not have the connections I possess now in terms of accessing writers who can help me further my work, and vice versa. Consulting writers is the foundation of how I write; I need unbiased judgement on the pieces I’ve drafted five times. I need fresh eyes on the pieces I don’t know how to finish. Community has changed the ways I write for the better; community is essential to writing. After all, how would Élan have begun if not for such a strong foundation of writers?

-Logan Monds, Junior Social Media & Marketing Editor