Telling tales: life writing from the inner-city and a critical reflection on the ethics of non-fiction storytelling.
Groves, Sarah Anne.
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This thesis comprises a creative component entitled They won't come for us here, and a reflective component which examines the ethics of non-fiction storytelling. They won't come for us here is a compilation of life-writing and memoir produced and recorded during a three and a half year period spent living in the South African inner-city of Pietermaritzburg. It is a collection of lyric essays, and free-verse poetry, that investigates and narrates the lives of inner-city inhabitants, whilst reflectively interrogating the life of the narrator. The compilation adopts a chronological approach, telling peoples’ stories as the narrator meets them. This chronology is then interspersed with reflective records from the narrator’s childhood in apartheid South Africa, records which attempt to explain and self-interrogate the perceived prejudiced and classist response of a white, middle-class narrator to a mixed-race, mixed-class inner-city. The creation of They won’t come for us here raised a number of ethical issues common to non-fiction storytelling, issues most commonly divided into the categories of privacy protection and creative license. To engage with these issues effectively the reflective component focuses on analysing the ethical decision-making of a selection of creative non-fiction writers. These writers include American essayists, such as David Sedaris and Joan Didion, and South African literary journalists, such as Antjie Krog and Jonny Steinberg. The ethical choices that confront creative non-fiction writers range from the challenge of the unequal power balance experienced by immersion journalists to the challenge of recreation by imagination or memory experienced by most memoirists. After analysing the discussions and choices around the ethical decisions of a selection of creative non-fiction-fiction writers, the reflective component develops three frameworks that could support writers as they analyse their work: the framework of emotional truth versus factual truth, the framework of artistic clarity versus ethical clarity, and the framework of obligation to subject, topic and reader. Finally, these frameworks are used to analyse They won't come for us here, reflectively questioning the ethical decisions that were made in the creation of this document, decisions that range from those common to all forms of immersion storytelling to those common to the South African context, in which, predominantly, white voices record black stories.