Exploring the art of prose


Author: Anne Panning

Author’s Note

In the past decade, I’ve fallen head over heels with writing (and reading) flash creative nonfiction. I love the tight energy you have to achieve in every single word and the beautiful fluidity of form. My approach to writing flash creative nonfiction is often to use segmentation and juxtaposition. I grew up in Minnesota, where Prince was a cultural touchstone for many of us—even a kid like me from a corn-and-soybean farm town with only one stoplight. I also loved the challenge of writing about famous people, and actually did a lot of research on Prince and Kim Basinger, which was tremendously fun.

By weaving together Prince’s tumultuous relationship with Kim Basinger with my own messy relationship with a college boyfriend, I thought I might build some tension, then defuse, then more tension, then defuse. What surprised me was that in addition to the juxtaposition of the two narratives, I found more parallelism than I expected. The two narrative threads were more similar than I’d thought going in. “Kim’s tortured eyes” become my tortured eyes. I signed up for the Peace Corps and left my boyfriend; Kim refused Prince’s begging and left him.

I also tend to lean heavily on setting and time period. This was the late 1980s: Reaganomics in full swing, AIDS mysteriously spreading, the Iran Contra Affair an evil morass. What a scary and bewildering time, especially when you’re in college (which I waited tables to pay for) and don’t really know who the hell you are yet. I’ll admit I was dumb; I was rash and reckless; but I did get out and away, which at the time seemed urgent. In a way, this piece is like a time capsule to me.


ANNE PANNING recently published her first memoir, Dragonfly Notes: On Distance and Loss. She has also published a novel, Butter, as well as two short story collections—The Price of Eggs, and Super America, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. She’s published short work in places such as Brevity (five times), Prairie Schooner, The Florida Review, Quarterly West, Kenyon Review, and River Teeth. Her essays have received Notable citations in The Best American Essays series. She teaches creative writing at SUNY Brockport and is working on her next memoir, Bootleg Barber: A Daughter’s Memoir. Find her on Twitter at @AnnePanning.