The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting

How a Bunch of Rabble-Rousers, Outsiders, and Ne’er-do-wells Concocted Creative Nonfiction

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In the 1970s, Lee Gutkind, a leather-clad hippie motorcyclist and former public relations writer, fought his way into the academy. Then he took on his colleagues. His goal: to make creative nonfiction an accepted academic discipline, one as vital as poetry, drama, and fiction. In this book Gutkind tells the true story of how creative nonfiction became a leading genre for both readers and writers.

Creative nonfiction—true stories enriched by relevant ideas, insights, and intimacies—offered liberation to writers, allowing them to push their work in freewheeling directions. The genre also opened doors to outsiders—doctors, lawyers, construction workers—who felt they had stories to tell about their lives and experiences.

Gutkind documents the evolution of the genre, discussing the lives and work of such practitioners as Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Rachel Carson, Upton Sinclair, Janet Malcolm, and Vivian Gornick. Gutkind also highlights the ethics of writing creative nonfiction, including how writers handle the distinctions between fact and fiction.

Read excerpts of the book at LitHub and Narratively, and a Narratively Q&A with Lee. You can also read reviews of this book from Hippocampus Magazine, The New York Journal of Books, The Washington Post, The Arts Fuse, and the TLS.

When [Gutkind] stops to look back on his own evolving perspective . . . [and] reflects upon his writing career, the choices he made . . . he puts himself, and us, right back in the moment—and the results are vivid, ambiguous, emotionally resonant, fascinating.

Lucas Mann, Washington Post

This memoir/critical history will please some readers and tick off others, which seems to be precisely the point. . . . Budding journalists and students of creative writing will find plenty of red meat in Gutkind’s pages.

Kirkus Reviews

The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting . . . is often a graceful blend of memoir and history. . . . It is both informing and entertaining, and [Gutkind’s] description of his assault on the ivy towers is one that aspiring writers and beginning professors need to hear.

Michael Pearson, New York Journal of Books

Gutkind has done more than trace a shift in academic thinking. . . . He has documented one aspect of a cultural shift toward viewing the stories of outsiders, outcasts, and people without power as valuable, a subversive shift that threatens the primacy of those in power.

Christy Moore, Hippocampus Magazine

Lee Gutkind’s brisk historical account of how a set of borrowed modalities became ‘the fourth genre’ is deftly interleaved with anecdotes and insights drawn from a lifetime as a practitioner.

J. Michael Lennon, Times Literary Supplement

A chronicle of the pitched battles that took place during a decades-long war of attrition and détente, finally arriving at the culture’s capitulation to the idea of creative nonfiction as a distinct literary form. . . . Gutkind is a feisty pugilist.

David Daniel, Arts Fuse

Now Available

My Last Eight-Thousand Days

An American Male in his Seventies

This revealing, candid, and vivid portrait of one man’s view of aging written by the man who played a crucial role in establishing literary, narrative nonfiction in the marketplace and in the academy, examines male aging in a way we’ve not seen before. In My Last Eight Thousand Days, Gutkind turns his notepad and tape […]

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About Lee Gutkind

In his most recent book, The Fine Art of Literary Fist-Fighting, Lee Gutkind, dubbed by Vanity Fair the “Godfather behind creative nonfiction,” recounts the evolution of the genre from its beginnings three hundred years ago to its acceptance as the legitimate fourth genre in the literary world. He also recounts how he brought his devotion and belief to a wider audience by founding the groundbreaking literary magazine Creative Nonfiction. Gutkind, the author or editor of more than thirty books, has lectured to audiences around the world—from China to the Czech Republic, from Australia to Africa to Egypt. He has appeared on many national radio and television shows, including The Daily Show with Jon StewartGood Morning America, National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, and All Things Considered.

Read Lee's Full Bio