Fiction or Non-Fiction? Some Writers Don't Have to Choose

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Last week, the New York Times Magazine ran a profile on Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the phenomenon of a book Eat, Pray Love. Gilbert, who will be releasing a novel in October, is now being questioned as to whether she can be taken seriously as a fiction writer, or whether she'll always be viewed as a self-help guru and chick-lit sensation. The ability to go seamlessly and successfully from fiction to nonfiction or vice versa is indeed a talent. We’ve gathered up some of our favorite authors who have perfected the one-two step of switching genres. 

Last week, the New York Times Magazine ran a profile on Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the phenomenon of a book Eat, Pray Love. Gilbert, who will be releasing a novel in October, is now being questioned as to whether she can be taken seriously as a fiction writer, or whether she'll always be viewed as a self-help guru and chick-lit sensation. The ability to go seamlessly and successfully from fiction to nonfiction or vice versa is indeed a talent. We’ve gathered up some of our favorite authors who have perfected the one-two step of switching genres. 

Truman Capote

Capote’s In Cold Blood is considered by some to be the original nonfiction novel, and is still considered to be one of the best of the genre. But it was Breakfast at Tiffany's: A Short Novel and Three Stories that led Norman Mailer to call Capote "the most perfect writer of my generation." It’s a testament to Capote’s skill in both fiction and nonfiction that a book about a murder in a small town and a novella about the original manic pixie dream girl are equally as acclaimed and culturally significant.

Joan Didion

Memoirs? Screenplays? Novels? Joan Didion excels at it all. One of the champions of creative nonfiction, Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking is regarded as the classic work of mourning. On the other hand, her novel Play It As It Lays is an equally devastating and beautiful portrait of American life in the 1960s and woman’s lack of purpose. Fiction? Nonfiction? You can’t really choose which is better when it comes of Joan Didion.

Vladimir Nabokov

Sure, when you think of Nabokov you immediately think of the genius novel Lolita, but his memoir, Speak, Memory, is one of the best autobiographies ever written. Filled with his seductive and humorous prose, his memoir entertains with comedic anecdotes and gives readers entry into an enchanting past that is no longer accessible.

Susan Sontag

Sontag’s controversial essays about AIDS, human rights, and illness made her one of the most provocative and influential intellectual icons of our time. On Photography, Against Interpretation, Illness as Metaphor, are regarded as some of her best nonfiction work (or, possibly, period). Much like her nonfiction, her fiction works such as “The Way We Live Now,” The Volcanic Lover and In America also reveal insights into American society and culture that are both philosophical and grounded in a concrete reality.

Tobias Wolff

Wolff is most famous for his memoir This Boy's Life. But Wolff is also a prolific short story writer, having received the O. Henry Prize on several occasions. At their cores, both his memoirs and short stories are about humans reacting to a range of events from unexpected to prosaic. But Wolff imbues his prose with nuance, irony, and imagination that make his storytelling appear effortless.

Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando all paved the way for stream-of-consciousness and lyrical experimentation in fiction writing. Woolf’s book-length essay, A Room of One’s Own, is equally influential and is considered an important feminist text for writers.

Jonathan Safran Foer

Foer has been called a lot of things, from the wunderkind voice of our generation to “Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False.” His books prompt dialogue and often polarizing opinions. His two works of fiction, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were met with critical acclaim, whereas his nonfiction work about the meat industry, Eating Animals, was met with mixed reviews. With a group of people stating that Foer changed the way they eat and think about food, the controversial book is worth reading.