Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fiction vs facts


Overheard today at Cleveland Elementary School while I was copying student poems for a 4th grade class: Young Chinese teacher to her young mostly Chinese charges in a remedial reading group. What's the difference between fiction and other books? In unison they all shouted: it doesn't have any facts.

I was so startled, I tuned and blurted out: That's not even remotely true. There was an acute moment of silence as they all stared at me as if I was a zombie. I slunk away thinking of War and Peace.

We hadn't even gotten to the truth stage, whether or not fiction contained facts! I learned to love Russia through War and Peace, and Dr. Zhivago. That was how I learned Russian history. Not beforehand. And yes, deeper truths were embedded.

 I brought a copy of Zhivago to the USSR, and it was snatched from me, students exclaiming, in wonderment, touching it as if it were the grail, saying: I have heard of this book... Some deeper truths were had that day.

Alas, a gentle correction was not possible. I was too pissed off to be gentle. Wide mouth frog, or foot in mouth syndrome at work. What I should have said instead of undermining the teacher: There are many kinds of fiction. Fiction is not all facts but may contain many facts.  I expect the teacher won't teach that sound byte again.

How would she explain away yellow journalism, or gonzo journalism as fictionalized non-fiction. What about the social commentary of Vidal, Mailer, Wolfe and Thompson? How would she view poetry?

Ironically I tend to stick to facts when writing poetry, or what I know to be true...rarely do I bend truth or fictionalize. Not much need... but then there's imagined truth as well. But truth and facts are not the same. As Mark Adler said: …as if fiction doesn't contain some of the deepest truths. Wonder if I awoke some natural critical -thinking skills in those tiny students?


added 5/17

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