Magnifying Glass Writing (or, a love letter for creative nonfiction)

I recently received Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as a gift and read it, consumed it, in my room on Christmas Eve.

In the context of police brutality, the systemic destruction of black bodies, and #BlackLivesMatter activism, this book is unquestionably an important and necessary product of our cultural climate. But I bring up Coates’ memoir not to discuss the arguments he makes or the questions he poses (though these are certainly worthy points of discussion); rather, I bring up Coates’ memoir because it shifted the way I look at writing.

Between the World and Me demonstrates that good writing doesn’t act as a shield between Author and World, but rather a magnifying glass. And Coates uses this magnifying glass to lift the facade of his world and expose something raw underneath. He then consciously explores this rawness, weaving a narrative that provokes thought like a philosophical text yet turns pages like a mystery novel.

In a society riddled with conflict, we need this magnifying glass writing— code-switching nonfiction that is equal parts creative and critical, clever and insightful. We need writing that is vulnerable in its self-awareness and jolting in its honesty, that is uncomfortable and painful, careful yet unafraid. We need writing that elicits empathy and shifts public discourse.

I’m fascinated by writers who can connect the smallest, tangible details (like a birthmark or the pavement or candy corn) to larger, intangible societal implications (like genetics or industrialization or consumerism); I’m fascinated by writers who can poetically bridge the schism between micro and macro. Ultimately, creative nonfiction is the form of writing I want to challenge myself to produce, the form of writing I care most deeply about.

2 thoughts to “Magnifying Glass Writing (or, a love letter for creative nonfiction)”

  1. Beautifully written. Coates is a very smart man and a great source of information on a number of topics. Really enjoyed your personal paragraph at the end.

  2. Stina,
    I love this blog post for 2 reasons. First, you raise a great point about using writing to examine world/societal issues that makes us uncomfortable, fearful, and/or confused. Often I feel that people use writing to examine their internal discomforts, fears, and/or confusion, but hesitate to expand these ideas to a larger context. Usually I think this happens because people are worried that they will offend others or say something unintentionally controversial. Your post really urges writers to ignore these hesitations and tackle large problems, and you highlight the rewards of doing that. Second, I enjoy that you feel you learned a new way of writing, one that you found extremely interesting and unique. I tend to think that after being through multiple AP English/Literature courses and college level writing courses that I have experienced and learned all the ways that there are to write. You remind me, though, that writing does not have to fit a format or template, thus, can continue to evolve and chance into unheard of, extremely enjoyable forms of writing. This teaches me to be open minded towards each piece of writing I encounter, because it could have useful lessons to teach me.

Leave a Reply