Canadian Middlebrow Goes Motorcycling: Creative Nonfiction from Magazine to Book

Ted Bishop, Professor
Dept. of English and Film Studies
University of Alberta
Narrative nonfiction uses the elements of traditional, objective nonfiction (reportage, exposition, critical analysis) and combines them with the resources of the novelist (dialogue, characterization, the creation of scene) in order to render lived experience as well as to convey information.
But how to do that?
Canadian novelist Joan Barfoot in a Globe and Mail review writes, “The very best journalism creates connections and angles and perspectives that cause little brain-sizzles….” In this talk Ted Bishop with read from the “gearing up” scene (a trope of all travel literature) in his Riding with Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books, and discuss the evolution of the text from a series of articles in Cycle Canada and Joyce Studies Annual, to an extended nonfiction essay, “The Motorcycle and the Archive,” to a trade book, published by Penguin (Canada) and Norton (U.S.).
The talk outlines the challenges of writing not only for two specialized audiences – motorcyclists and archivists – but for a middlebrow public at large, and we will explore the techniques involved, from shaping paragraphs and crafting blurbs to finding narrative voices and flying without footnotes, weaving the different registers of research and reminiscence to generate the ‘brain-sizzles’ that keep multiple constituencies of readers engaged.

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