What is literary nonfiction? You may have seen it under different names; in addition to literary nonfiction, it has been called narrative nonfiction, creative nonfiction, narrative journalism, factual fiction, documentary narrative, and “the literature of actuality,” according to the University of Oregon’s definition. While we tend to equate “literary” with “fiction” and not truth, this genre of writing is all about the facts. It is the style that is creative, literary, or narrative. Many pieces of literary nonfiction read like novels, but tell stories of true people or events. However, nonfiction writers must be careful not to dip too closely into the fiction realm—they must rely entirely on facts, and craft them in an engaging manner.

This type of nonfiction has shown up in the news, in the nonfiction publishing industry, and even education. Elizabeth Partridge, the author of Marching for Freedom, an account of children protesting during the Civil Rights Movement, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and took a place on the School Library Journal’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. Nonfiction books have been winning awards left and right the past few years, including the 2009 National Book Award, the Coretta Scott King Author Award, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Award.

As Partridge notes, nonfiction is changing, certainly losing its stigma of “boring.” Perhaps you’re most familiar with this type of writing in journalism. The Atlantic Monthly is just one of many publications that has literary nonfiction pieces, a welcome relief from the onslaught of news written in the traditional inverted pyramid style. Unlike most articles, you won’t be able to find out the core information in the first sentence of a literary nonfiction piece. Instead, much like with a thriller novel, you will have to read to the very end to find all the facts.

But this writing movement has become popular with a younger crowd, too. Literary nonfiction is now read by students in grades K-12. Students may be surprised to find that a good story is made up entirely of facts. Although this type of writing is popular as a listening device—the better to engage young readers—teachers are encouraging their students to take the writing initiative as well. Third graders from the Alain L. Locke Elementary School PS 208 in Manhattan, for instance, were assigned literary nonfiction essays this spring. Pieces included subjects such as sharks and snakes.

Literary nonfiction is popular with the older students as well—and now some schools award students for their essays. In Texas, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference awards fifteen scholarships and provides a forum for students from all grades to interact with writers experienced in the field. The Norman Mailer High School and College Writing Awards for Creative Nonfiction encourages students from high school, two-year, and four-year college institutions to try their hand at literary nonfiction.

Be on the lookout for literary nonfiction—it’s guaranteed to be entertaining!