On Flash Nonfiction, and Judith Kitchen

Photo_Judith_KitchenI recently read that Judith Kitchen passed away from cancer. I didn’t know Judith personally; we’d never even met. I discovered her via the flash nonfiction anthologies she created and edited, with the aptly named titles:  In Short, In Brief and Short Takes.

I fell hard for the flash nonfiction form when my friend Janet introduced me to the series. I read all three books, highlighting phrases and passages. This was sometime in 2006 I believe, shortly after I graduated from the MFA program at Lesley University, and right around the time I had my first child. (Trust me: flash is the form to read when you’ve got an infant).

I remember laughing at pieces like Brady Udall’s “One Liar’s Beginnings,” and gasping at the end of Harriet Doerr’s “Low Tide at Four.” The brilliant essay “The Mother,” by Ann Panning hit home in a big way, at just the right time.

As I read these books, I came to think of Judith Kitchen as the Grand Dame of the flash nonfiction form (along with Dinty Moore of Brevity as the Grand Poobah). In 2013, I was lucky enough to see both of them on a panel at the AWP Conference in Boston, along with writers Peggy Shumaker, Sue Williams Silverman and Ira Sukrungruang of Sweetlit.com.

Right after I learned she had passed away, I sought out my notes from that panel. Here’s what I found in my notebook under “Judith”:

Length/depth ratio

Digression – thinking long

  1. short transitional phase
  2. Change topic
  3. Use white space for transition

Unfortunately, that was it. I didn’t take very good notes that day. But I had an excuse: I was going through my own cancer experience at the time. I’d received a breast cancer diagnosis only a few months before, and I was recovering from my surgery. I hoped to milk every little bit of wisdom I could out of this panel, but, to coin a cliché, that’s all she wrote.

Then, earlier this week, I read Michael Steinberg’s brilliant craft essay on Reflection in Personal narratives—a topic I’m passionate about. The piece appears in the most recent issue of Solstice and lo and behold, there was Judith, sharing her sage advice on writing creative nonfiction. That’s when I knew I wanted to write this blog. To say thank you for all those wonderful words.

An excerpt from Judith Kitchen’s The Circus Train

 

 

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