Ever since I was first introduced his plays in eleventh grade, I have been a huge—and maybe huge is even an understatement—fan of Eugene O’Neill. Often referred to as America’s greatest playwright, O’Neill’s plays (particularly Long Day’s Journey Into Night) resonated with me in ways other plays and novels hadn’t before. I was drawn in by the tragedies of his real life, and I was fascinated by the ways in which these lived experiences showed themselves in his albeit some more than others. During my sophomore year of college, I took a research seminar in which one of our assigned projects was to pick a topic we were interested in, research it, and write a paper that demonstrated our findings and our conclusions. Of course, I chose to research O’Neill and the extent to which he used his real life experiences in his “fictional” plays. My paper argued that O’Neill’s plays were in fact influenced by his real life, something that was perhaps inevitable.
Now you may be wondering what this has to do with literature today. Well, this topic—whether connected to O’Neill or not—is still of great interest to me. So when I recently read an article on Karl Ove Knausgård, a renowned Scandinavian writer, and his new book My Struggle (a somewhat fictional memoir of his life), I immediately thought of Eugene O’Neill and his work. The article on Knausgård introduced me to the concept of “autofiction,” which is defined as: “a form of fictionalized autobiographies.” For the past several years, I have been searching for this word, a word I didn’t know even existed but a sentiment I truly and utterly believed in. In this article, Knausgård says that his experiences are “a non-existent reality” and that “you evoke it by writing or thinking about it. But it’s also truth, because you write about things that exist.”
In this way, autofiction allows writers to recount their lives while still making room for fictional elements and aspects. I happen to think this writing form makes for a great piece of text, whether it’s more fictional like O’Neill’s works or more true like Knausgård’s My Struggle, for these stories all teach us invaluable lessons about the human existence in ways that are inexplicably tied to the heart. That being said, there are some scholars who argue that this way of writing should not be used, because writers should make a clear distinction between fiction and nonfiction, that autobiographies should be completely true and that works of fiction should be entirely not true. To me, however, these lines are not so divided; rather, they are blurry. Fiction does meet nonfiction and vice versa. The two work in tandem and without one another, neither would flourish. Therefore, I am a dedicated advocate of fiction and nonfiction—particularly pertaining to people’s real experiences—meeting. There need not be such a stark division. Instead, it is possible, and oftentimes poignant, for the two to intertwine.
What are your thoughts on autofiction? It’s clear what my views are, but I’d love to hear your opinions.