The "I" in Narrative Nonfiction: How to Tell Others' Stories without Taking Over or Getting in the Way

Breakout Session


Using “I” in memoir is a given. Employing first-person pronouns in narrative nonfiction is a choice. When telling others' stories, especially those not traditionally told, does “I” belong? If so, where? Narrative nonfiction always involves immersion in one's subject, but how much—if any—of that process should appear on the page? We’ll examine authorial decisions in groundbreaking works: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I’ll share challenges and opportunities in my own hybrid narrative nonfiction/true crime/memoir. Attendees will leave with a framework for balancing the "I" in their work.

Key takeaways from this session:

  • Explore the use of “I” in groundbreaking works of narrative nonfiction, particularly stories of underrepresented individuals and communities
  • Add effective strategies to their writer’s toolbox, including how to use “I” in narrative nonfiction projects without overtaking the story
  • Envision immersion work they might want to produce and how they would incorporate reportage into memoir or memoir into reportage

View Slides [pptx]



  • Diane Gottlieb

    Diane Gottlieb’s writing has appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Bending Genres, 100-Word Story, VIDA Review, The Rumpus, Hedgehog Review, Brevity Blog and Entropy, among others. She is the winner of Tiferet’s 2021 Writing Contest in nonfiction and is the 2021 Dancing in the Rain fellow at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy...