Friday from the Archives: “Trains” by Rebecca McClanahan from NCLR 8 (1999).
We are excited to have Rebecca McClanahan as our final judge for this year’s Albright Creative Nonfiction Contest. Her work has appeared several times in NCLR and two of her books–The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings and Deep Light–were reviewed in the journal. Her essay “Trains” draws an elegantly simple picture of a train ride, which winds up including the complex towns and people passed along the way from start to finish.
The piece is a beautiful example of how good creative nonfiction takes the detail and makes it universal. “We feel the vibration most when we slow – for crossings or stations, or when the whistle signals entry into some small town. Like this one, which splits down the center as we enter it. You can’t get this view from a car’s window. When you travel main arteries or the interstate, building fronts are simply that: fronts, spruced up for a good first impression. A train’s window frames the town more intimately. It’s a break-away view, the whole world a stage, its fourth wall exposed.”
And this, which is practically advice for the creative nonfiction writer: “From a train window, every view is framed. Framing implies limits; a frame both narrows the vision and intensifies it. We look more deeply into the scene because we can’t look widely, the view formed as much by what is excluded as by what is included. When the train is at rest, our eyes have time to travel, to take in the textured details an oil painter, schooled in the realism of old masters, would labor over. As the train gains speed, the beauty is impressionistic, a watercolor blur of color and shape. The loveliest views occur in passing.”
The Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize is now open for submissions, through March 1. More details can be found here: https://nclr.ecu.edu/albright-guidelines/