As a journal of innovative literature committed to publishing formal experimentations, Quarter After Eight has, for the past seventeen years, avoided genre distinctions. Although we love genre-bending, blurring the lines between fiction and nonfiction poses some ethical, if not aesthetic, problems for some of our readers.
For example, in volume 17 we published a piece about drug abuse, child abuse, prison, and family by Tasia M Hane-Devore that may be fiction or may be nonfiction. The editors don’t know, the readers don’t know. Does it matter? Does the piece have a different impact if you assume the speaker is fictional? Here’s an excerpt from “So.”:
That evening my brother calls me from the payphone saying he’s found Godcapital- G, “This is it I need you to pray for me I wrote my entire autobiography eighteen pages I miss mom and dad.”
They died last year. I don’t pray, but I am superstitious, which amounts to the same thing. I tell him I’ll pray for him right after he gets his shit together. He goes to prison meetings where they pray for souls, not bodies, which is what he needs praying for. His soul hasn’t broken into apartments and cars or stabbed a guy or smoked hash with our parents or faked getting shot for the sympathy of it.
“Oh it hurts,” he moans.
“Give me a break,” I say. True. Give me a motherfucking break.
Because it seems problematic to invite readers to assume in cases like this that the speaker is a writer talking about her real life or alternatively to assume that such pain is fictional, the editors are considering changing the layout on our table of contents for volume 18 to make such distinctions clear. However, we wonder if doing so might undermine other formal experiments that capitalize on this gray area. Are the facts in Cheyenne Nimes “D River” more evocative because they aren’t bogged down by that coldly formal label “Nonfiction.” Here’s a taste of her undefined lyricism on water pollution:
…the more than 800 million acre-feet of water raining onto the earth each day we save in rain buckets, tinfoil baking sheets, bowls gingerly set below gutters because nearly all the Earth’s water is in oceans (97%) where it does no good to drink; continuing past every last river great and small- the Amazon, Zaire, Congo, Orinoco, the King River- the most polluted river in all of Australia- if there were a way to split the skull to release the spirit- its acid rain, the mining that continues to be highly toxic to marine life, a great many fish were left on the banks- though the river is forced to stay within its banks, trapped, don't make eye contact when you back away slowly…
And what about stories that are also poems, poems that are also essays, essays that are also poems? Are efforts at formal experimentation undermined by genre categorization?
Readers, what do you think?