Creative Nonfiction

What Can We Steal From Kent Russell’s “American Juggalo”?

Title of Work and its Form: “American Juggalo,” creative nonfiction
Author: Kent Russell
Date of Work: 2011
Where the Work Can Be Found: “American Juggalo” was first published in the Fall 2011 issue of the journal N + 1. The piece was subsequently awarded a Pushcart Prize and was included in the 2013 Pushcart anthology.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Material

The idea of the piece is actually quite simple: Kent Russell packed up and attended the Gathering of the Juggalos to find out what makes Juggalos tick.  To a lot of people, there are no new horizons, particularly in a country as saturated with media as the United States.  “American Juggalo” takes a look at a subculture with which most people wouldn’t be familiar, particularly most folks who read literary journals.  Juggalos are fans of the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) and the other endeavors undertaken by their label, Psychopathic Records.  The Gatherings are notoriously out of control, with Juggalos fighting and screaming and using all kinds of drugs non-stop.

Russell is NOT a Juggalo, and approached the situation from a scientific perspective.  It wasn’t his intention to become a Juggalo or to chronicle their world from the inside.  He does NOT follow that old adage, “When in Rome.”  Not only does Russell refrain from using illegal drugs, but he refuses entry to Juggalos who are trying to crash in his tent.  (Totally uncool, bro.)  Even though he is approaching the material in a scholarly manner, Russell sees a lot of humanity in the Juggalos.  What do these folks want?  Family.  It’s fair to say that many Juggalos have some sort of disconnect with the rest of the world; why wouldn’t they be drawn so strongly to a group that shares their outlook on society?

What Should We Steal?

  • Approach your subject with empathy and curiosity.  Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, your characters should feel like friends or family members to you.  You should want to get to the subject’s heart, ignoring all of the obstacles that may be in the way.  Russell doesn’t particularly enjoy camping out around all of the Juggalos, but he approaches them on a human level nonetheless.  If you’re writing Hannibal Lecter, you need to put aside your distaste for the tastes that Lecter loves.
  • Force yourself into uncomfortable situations and into discussions with new kinds of people.  What can you really write about if you haven’t experienced anything?  Fib your way into getting a VIP pass for The Gathering and drive out to a cornfield in the middle of nowhere.  Take a watercolor class.  Introduce yourself to strangers.  I’ve mentioned Lee K. Abbott before; he was writing a book for which he needed knowledge about guns.  Lee had no knowledge of guns, so he struck up a conversation with his car mechanic, who happened to know a whole lot about guns.  People love talking about themselves and what they love…give them the opportunity!

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