Recently encountered, and very common comment on the internet:
“Storyteller Jean Shepherd (born July 26, 1921) was a fixture on American radio from the 1950s to the 1970s. He is best remembered as the voice of the narrator in A Christmas Story, a classic holiday film based on his semi-autobiographical tale.”
A word that I’ve encountered innumerable times in regard to Jean Shepherd’s work.
Some familiar with my belief know that I consider this balderdash!
Some definitions of the word found on the internet:
1. pertaining to or being a fictionalized account of an author’s own life. Pertaining to or being a work of fiction strongly influenced byevents in an author’s life.
2. Dealing partly with the writer’s own life but also containing fictional elements.
3. Of, relating to, or being a work that falls between fiction and autobiography: a semiautobiographical novel.
4. Of or relating to a work that combines autobiography and fiction
Semi- or half-fiction is a blend, a percentage, estimable by the writer and sometimes by “characters,” of what actually has taken place and what could have taken place. It begins to replace what in fact did take place….
“Creative nonfiction” is intensely cumbersome as the name of a literary genre, and yet it must be the best name for it so far…. “creative nonfiction” to mean the factual basis or sequence of life events — not meaning “plot” in fiction — matters less than the artistry or creative arrangements at play in the work.
EXACTLY IN WHAT PARTS OF A Christmas Story–or any other Shep story–does the autobiographical part reside? Only in the general location of the story and having parents and a kid brother.
HOW MANY ENCOUNTERS HAVE WE ALL HAD COLLECTIVELY–in which we have reliably been told or discovered that any of the plot details of a Shep kid or army story (beyond a character’s name, or a location) have actually occurred?
I’ve never encountered any.
Example: Flickinger family denies Flick got tongue stuck to a pole.
[And yes, I know that the base story references “The Cleveland Street Kid.”]
* * *
Here’s what we can verify as non-fiction in his stories:
•SOME ACTUAL NAMES OF PEOPLE THAT HE KNEW AS A KID.
•NAMES OF HIS BROTHER AND SOME FRIENDS.
•PLACES HE IS KNOWN TO HAVE BEEN AS KID AND IN THE ARMY.
Shepherd told his stories on the radio as though they actually happened to him, but he explained (to my satisfaction) that it was all fiction–on Alan Colmes 1998 show he said, “I want my stuff to sound real. And so when I tell a story, I tell it in the first person, so it sounds like–by the way, that’s the best way to tell a good story, in the first person–that it sounds like it actually happened to me. It didn’t….I’m a fiction writer. I’m not sitting there doing a biography or an autobiography.”
The quotes from Shep’s books are his author statements at the front of each book.
IN GOD WE TRUST: “The characters, places, and events described herein re entirely fictional, and any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result of faulty imagination.”
WANDA HICKEY: [No statement found]
THE FERRARI IN THE BEDROOM: “Large parts of the following are fiction, other parts based on fact. Still others are pure mythology. Some characters are real, others are figments of a harassed imagination. To the real, I apologize. To the others, the back of my hand.”
A FISTFUL OF FIG NEWTONS: “This book is a work of the imagination. However, some essays are observations and conclusion. The characters depicted in the short stories are fictional. They do not represent any actual individuals, living or dead.”
HENRY MORGAN, RADIO COMIC [Quoted in The Realist, 1960]: “He has talked about that youth of his in such detail that I suspect it lasted about forty years.”
JEAN SHEPHERD: [On Alan Colmes interview, 1998] “I’m a fiction writer.”
HUGH M. HEFNER, PLAYBOY PUBLISHER: [interview, 2002] “The fact is that Jean’s stories were invented—and not personal experiences.”
Although on his own show he maintained the illusion that the stories were real, in the author’s declaration in his books, he insisted that all those stories (transcribed and augmented from his radio stories) were fiction. As I put it in EYF! “He went to extremes…in order to refute the idea that, rather than being a creative artist, he was merely remembering. He was a victim of his own success in creating the illusion of truth.”
I googled “semi-autobiographical” and came up with lots of stuff, but only the image that appears below seemed appropriate. The only reference I found to it: thenewdaughter.com would not open. I don’t know what the creator meant to suggest in the picture, but for me, I’ll use it to suggest that Shep found himself unable to escape from his box of self-created fiction masquerading as non-fiction:
A “real” guy in his self-created (fictional) box.
I say that, to describe Shep’s stories (kid and army) we do not use
“autobiographical” or “semi-autobiographical,” but