March 21, 2021 by The Citron Review
In “Autobiographical Notes” from the 1984 edition of Notes of a Native Son James Baldwin turns his attention to how “one writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. “Everything,” he explains, “depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.” And this is why I love creative nonfiction: the invitation to show who we are and what we care about; what addles us and what we don’t understand; what we hope for and what we are determined to change. Charlotte Hamrick and I, the new Creative Nonfiction editors for The Citron Review, are so pleased to share these selections which embody those very elements.
In “Ugh, Uub,” Shakirah Peterson notices the Black man next to her gaming constantly on his phone “without ever seeing himself in the entertainment he tirelessly consumes” and this doesn’t sit well with her. When he points out Uub, one of the only Black characters in the virtual world he spends so much time in, she wants to accept him as “a fair and worthy representation for all the little Black boys watching DragonBall Z” but she can’t. Why, she wonders, do they need to see a character that fights “to rage”. “Ugh, Uub” raises questions about identity: does what we consume make us who we are? What is it like to be someone who isn’t represented? How do we fight for something different if we don’t see a path to get there?
The speaker in Michelle Site’s inventive piece “Long Before they Declared it an Epidemic” searches for answers too. She invites us to think about anxiety, “this infection we fail to pin down” and wonders how it manages “to spill everywhere but live nowhere”. How do we know, she asks, “what is a history and what is a narrative?”As a culture we talk about anxiety, we all know it, but sometimes we forget to ask why it’s there in the first place and when we accepted it as the price of living.
Gabriela Frank’s “Mr. Fix-It” is an ambivalent homage to a father who in photographs smiles “with his lips closed, his grins akin to grimaces.” In visceral detail after visceral detail she illuminates how he worked in a gritty car repair shop day after day where “between each service, he’d sip from sweaty cans of Coca-Cola and suck down unfiltered Camels, scoring a divot into the tip of his calloused thumb with the Bic wheel.” Frank offers the reader a look into a world in which they both tried to survive and she counted down the days until she could leave.
An 83-year old memory-impaired father is the subject of Jennifer Lang’s “Ricochet,” who repeats “Gee, what a nice surprise!” multiple times on the day he sees her while she grits her teeth and braces herself again and again for the familiar onslaught. In this compact piece we see the ways family can drive us nearly out of our skin and also how despite that toll, we often stay put because these ties bind us no matter how much we might want to cut them loose.
The “right” thing can exact a price as in Tom McAllister’s “1996” where students have no choice but to do what’s expected of them without question. “In Catholic school,” he writes, “my job was to show up and shut up and fill in the blanks. The whole point is to be mediocre enough not to draw attention to yourself. Excelling meant you were bad. Failing meant you were especially bad.” McAllister must decide if he will do what he dreams of or what is expected of him.
And in Wenxin Tang’s piece “How to Become a Thinker: a Chinese Room” another young student struggles against the confines of her institution. She writes, “In the blank space of a Chinese textbook you comment, ‘This article is totally racist, how can editors select it?’ Your teacher throws a piece of chalk at you, and you calmly say, ‘Do you have so little ego that you oppress students with violence?’” Tang’s is a hyperreal world teeming with potent truths she can’t ignore and the reader suspects she will no longer dismiss.
Charlotte and I are thrilled to bring you this creative nonfiction for our first issue of The Citron Review working together. We felt the power in these selections, the yearning for healthy representation and freedom of thought; for lives free of anxiety and oppression. I hope you enjoy these works as much as we do.
Creative Nonfiction Editor
The Citron Review