January 05, 2019

Tell It Slant: Review by Brenda Leyland

Creating, Refining, and Publishing Creative Nonfiction

Authors: Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola
Second Edition, 2012 (textbook version initially published in 2003)
Publisher: McGraw Hill Education, USA
ISBN-10: 0071781773; ISBN-13: 978-0071781770
Paperback, 272 pages. $24.95 CAD; Kindle $9.99 CAD; Kobo  $19.99 CAD

Over recent months, this new-to-me book has come home from the library on more than one occasion. I was first drawn to the book’s title—it's a nod to Emily Dickinson’s poem, “Tell all the Truth but tell it Slant”. The authors chose the poem for both title and epigraph because "it so aptly describes the task of the creative nonfiction writer: to tell the truth, yes, but to become more than a mere transcriber of life's factual experiences.” Desirous of deepening my creative nonfiction writing skills, I delved into the book and was not disappointed.

Tell It Slant is used as a textbook, and though many of us might remember dragging through old, dry texts, this book is not one of them. Instructive and comprehensive, yes, but it is far from dull. It's an engaging, pleasing read. Soon I had all sorts of ideas sprouting up, and I had to restrain myself from wanting to mark up my library book.

It is written in three sections: Unearthing Your Material, The Many Forms of Creative Nonfiction, and Honing Your Craft. With rich writing examples and practical prompts to use as triggers, the reader-cum-writer begins to see how to frame the stories in a wider context using, for example, the lens of history, science, sport, nature, art, or spiritual autobiography to engage the reader. “The more particular you make your own experience—with sensory details, compelling metaphors, and luscious rhythms—the more fully a reader will feel the personal story along with you.”

First published in 2003, this book became the go-to text for many instructors and new writers studying creative nonfiction writing. A decade and a half later, it remains a favourite for those who rely on its examination of the many forms creative nonfiction can take. Just ask my college-student niece, who recently read it for her creative nonfiction writing class. What fun to discover we were reading the same book at the same time and both finding it helpful.

If you are looking for help to deepen your own journey in creative nonfiction writing, I'm happy to recommend this great resource to you. If you haven't got a copy, you might want to wait until the new updated/revised version comes out. According to their Facebook page, a new version is in the works—sorry, there is no indication when it will be completed.

Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola are both Professors of English at Western Washington University. Miller has written, among other works, three essay collections: Season of the Body, Blessing of the Animals, and Listening Against the Stone. Paola’s books include Body Toxic and A Mind Apart. Both are award winning authors.

Note: The accompanying website that is often mentioned in the book as an additional resource is, unfortunately, no longer available.

A long-time InScribe member, Brenda Leyland writes from her home in Alberta, Canada. She shares life moments on her blog It's A Beautiful Life and on Facebook


  1. This sounds like a great book, Brenda. Thanks for sharing your review!

  2. Sounds very interesting and useful, Brenda. thanks!

  3. Thanks, Bren, for sharing this review on what sounds like a great resource. I have always loved this poetic quote by Emily Dickinson. "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." All you best in your writing and in your life, Brenda.

  4. I just finished the Creative Non-Fiction course at Athabasca University and we used this book. Yes, it's one I will use beyond the course!


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