One Blood The Narrative Impulse | Alaska Quarterly Review

One Blood The Narrative Impulse

When the King of Sweden awarded Karl Landsteiner the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1930, a number of things were known about human blood. It appears to be red and is pumped by the engine of the heart. It’s a physiological necessity to sustain human life. It takes about five liters of it to run an adult body — less than that and the body becomes enervated and will cease to work. And, although there is only one human blood, Landsteiner’s serological studies showed that human blood can be classified into distinct groups which are not compatible in combination. His research ultimately led to the important, life-saving application of therapeutic blood transfusions.

No one will win a Nobel Prize by explaining the nature of narrative structures or how narrative genres might be mixed. However, narrative is axial to the vitality and life of the mind. The very impulse toward story — the human need to tell and to write, to make meaning and sense of one’s existence — is universal. The gift of narrative has distinguished the human species from all others. Just about everything we think and dream — fact and fiction — is filtered through narrative. It is a constant in shaping our sense of self. It is central to our understanding of human nature. Hence the title of this volume, One Blood: The Narrative Impulse.

Yet the pressure to classify and divide is no less in the world of letters. This is ostensibly to ensure that readers understand what it is they are reading. Is it nonfiction or is it fiction? Is it true, or is it a product of imagination? Richard Ford put it this way: “One of the principal aspects of a piece of prose writing is: what is its purport? That is to say, what does it ask me to trust? What does it ask us to believe? For me it’s important that those lines of fidelity be maintained.” (AQR Vol. 17, Nos. 1 & 2)

As a companion to AQR’s volume Intimate Voices, Ordinary Lives (1997), One Blood: The Narrative Impulse explores an alternative view. We believe the basic impulse at the core of human narrative renders genre distinction an artifice. Fidelity to this fundamental impulse recognizes the primacy of narrative itself rather than its factuality or fictionality. By choosing not to classify stories by genre, we ignore the boundaries between fact and fiction. Although the purpose of each story is unchanged, the truthfulness of the story is enlarged. A story presented in this framework brings the reader closer to the story’s heart, closer to its original narrative impulse.

Within this context, the methodology for One Blood was straightforward. To unify the presentation, we included only stories of fact and fiction employing the first person voice. Over a two-year period, we received about 3,100 such stories, from which we selected 31. They represent the best cross-section of first person stories submitted to us. Contributing editor Patricia Hampl introduces the collection with an essay in which she places the first person voice in our literary history, and in a more general sense of history. She also touches on issues of voice and genre. She does not, however, provide a tour of the selections. By design, we reserve all interpretation of the stories for our readers. Finally, as we begin our 19th season, grateful acknowledgment is made to the National Endowment for the Arts for a Creation and Presentation grant that made possible the publication of One Blood: The Narrative Impulse.