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Anne Lambelet

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

I like to tell my students that every conversation is a fight.

Well, at least in fiction. In fiction, every character has a desire, and it’s usually the case that no two characters have exactly the same desire. It’s also usually the case that dialogue is not just talking—it’s a forum in which characters try to move the situation toward their interests. And if conversations are opportunities for characters to pursue their desires, which are not the same as what other characters want,...

As I was writing the poem, "Composite Color," crayons had gone through a metamorphosis. There were no longer the eight basic colors of my day. They were replaced by a sixty-four color box and a growing sensitivity to racial connotations. Society had become a melting pot of cautious consciousness and the simple became complex. This simple characteristic was the trigger that changed a box of crayons into stickmen of racial segregation.

From the poem:
“a mixing bowl with no sense...

It’s a problem most writers face. But the danger seems particularly acute for nonfiction writers who are accountable to real people, even when names are changed. How do you tell the story you set out to tell? Or, put slightly differently, how do you tell the story that is yours to tell? In my case, I had to write the wrong story to find the right story.

My essay “On Reading,” which appears in the NAR fall 2015...