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Creative Nonfiction writer Philip Gerard, in researching for an essay on the Gettysburg Address, decided to personally walk the path of Pickett's charge. He said that only in feeling the route for himself, in losing his breath and trudging through mud, did he realize the trek was uphill. Gerard said, "You have to see the thing itself, not merely a representation of the thing." For the creative nonfiction writer, site visit serves to imbue art with nuance and complexities of meaning. While writing a research-based creative nonfiction essay focused on Nancy Holt, I visited her land art installation Sun Tunnels and spent three days studying the land for this initial purpose. After the visit, I found that while the site did add perspective to my essay, it also informed the way in which I constructed the art and its very narrative. My writing began to embody the Sun Tunnels, directing and restricting memory just as the tunnel did to vision. This understanding is valuable to the creative nonfiction craft, as it tells artists that the very form of their work can be transformed by the artist’s surroundings, encouraging intimate relationships with site during research-based creative work. This perspective is also informed by artists in the field studying place. Philip Gerard's book Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life serves as a primary text in understanding the value of the site, as do the words of Nancy Holt herself. Using these secondary sources as well as findings from in-person research, this presentation will explore how site visit not only provides creative nonfiction writers with an intimate and physical understanding of their essay's subject but can also serve to shape the essay's form and narrative movement.


Utah State University

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English Language and Literature

From the Mouth of the Tunnel: How the Shape of Place Molds the Shape of Art