Can Literature Truly Be Nonfiction Or Is It Impossible?

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Image Credit: Flickr | Janaina C. Falkiewicz

Asking the question found in the title is like opening up Pandora’s Box for the English major. In fact, by the end of this article, you’re going to see how this question could have the word ‘non-fiction’ replaced with ‘fiction’ and make just as much sense. Every English major is taught about literary criticism and literary theories. You deconstruct this and you deconstruct that, and you find out that literature can be viewed through a variety of different lenses.


Writers are actually taught that people write what they know. Think about the writer out there penning the next great work of fiction. He or she is drawing upon experiences, and so one could argue against the question in the title automatically based on this point alone. If writers are writing what they know, then not only can literature be nonfiction, but you can make the argument that there isn’t any fiction. Well, just think about some of the plot twists you’ve seen out there, and that can put the question in reverse to bed. Writers do indeed have an imagination, and that does lead to embellishments and new stories of all kinds.


Then there is the fact that when people talk about literature, they often think of fiction. When students study literature in college, it’s about works of fiction. Trust me, I know because I was an English major. It’s not that you don’t read fictional works that have allegories and other references to history, but it’s always pieces of fiction that you’re asked to read in literature classes. It’s funny because the publishing industry has changed so much that everything has gone online, and nonfiction works are more popular than ever.


Fiction still sells, too, however, and is also very popular. As a writer, it’s easier to break into the nonfiction market than it is with the fiction market. Trust me again, I’ve been there. At this point, we’ve completely debunked both questions and proved that literature an indeed be nonfiction. However, just like a writer writes what he or she knows when writing fiction, the same thing happens when penning nonfiction works, too. Of course, nonfiction works are supposed to have that essence to them, right? Well, some people say that there are also other reasons why nonfiction may not be literature.


However, let’s just say that from the academic standpoint, the final answer is yes, nonfiction works are works of literature. Why? Well, that’s the academic standard as mentioned, and there are further classifications that can be added. For example, say you have about 100 works of literature in front of you. The first thing you would actually do when it comes to the classification process is to put them in groups of nonfiction works and works of fiction. Then, you can establish which of them are poetry or prose. Which are novels and short stories? You can go on and on from there, and you’ll have to segment the works of nonfiction, too.


Literature to many people is supposed to tell a story. How does a work of nonfiction tell a story? Some works of nonfiction aren’t all that great in doing that, but of course think about the historical nonfiction books. History is definitely a story. Whether or not a book is a work of literature is more dependent in my opinion on the capabilities of the author, not whether i is nonfiction or fiction. These days, people publish anything. They call themselves writers, but back in the day, publishing companies had to make that professional decision.