Every time my Creative Writing tutor speaks up to a writer, he mentions biographical information. When I read Forgotten Son to the class, he spoke to me, asserting, assuming, that I was a middle son; that I had been circumcised; that I was speaking from personal experience and context as a writer. That the storytelling I presented was me simply taking events from my life, and changing the settings, adjusting the colours, and asking people to read it. It’s not a terrible idea – but he loves this notion, the notion of the great autobiographical context, the notion that all storytelling flows from an individual’s experience.
Another student wrote an autobiographical piece – definitively so. It was about how he had been in a snit at his father the day he died. It was a decently written piece, I had opinions on it, and I wouldn’t mind taking the guy aside and talking to him about it. But in the piece, the one thing I didn’t care about was the time he mentioned Bowling Club. The tutor talked about Australian language, about how we use the word ‘Bowlo’ rather than Bowling club. He turned to the student, and asked him, with assumption in his voice: Why didn’t you use the word Bowlo?
In the truest and most sincere autobiographical piece, the tutor wanted to ask why he used the word that was actually used in the actual event.
I find myself afraid that the tutor is going to care about how he imagines we write rather than how we write. It is going to be very awkward as we proceed, as bad writing and poorly constructed narrative is graded more on its Australian-ness than on the quality of the story it tries to tell. Dont’ get me wrong, I’m quite bad for it too – I listened to the fantasy narrative as introduced by another student imagining what she projected of herself into the character on the page. I just don’t have control over the grades.
My storytelling should not be limited to my experience. Because if it is, all I will ever write is Yet More Bullshit about a white man who has had sex with women and achieved very little in his life.