On writing history

The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.

William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun, 1951.

I take an artistic stance and practice negative capability — John Keats’s term for a state of mind that can dwellin uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” I look for universals in the local, choose themes that are personally meaningful, write from love, and voice the cultured vernacular of The New Yorker, which was mother’s milk to me. I practice open form, convinced with Robert Creeley that “form is never more than an extension of content.”

Creative non-fiction does not mean the writer is free to trick out historical figures in imagined dialogue and thought processes. It means immersion in the subject. It means the writer’s obsessive searchings are part of the story. I cultivate curiosity and leave no stone unturned in search of the meaningful. I make up nothing.

Peter Grant, May 2016

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne …
Nat woot I wel wher that I flete or sinke.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parlement of Foules, c. 1381/2.

Does a firm perswasion that a thing is so, make it so?

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, 1790.

I would be an historian as Herodotus was, looking
for oneself for the evidence of
what is said

Charles Olson, Letter 23 (circa 1958), in The Maximus Poems, 1960.

Published April 28, 2016. Last updated December 4, 2021.