Exploring the Fringes of Nonfiction

March 2, 2013 § 5 Comments


blurring boundariesA guest post from B.J. Hollars, editor of Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction:

One day I woke troubled by the hard fact about facts; that is, that their factuality is often in flux.  Sure, the world is round today, I reasoned, but hadn’t that observation once nearly cost Galileo his life?  And more recently (and perhaps more troubling to my own understanding of the universe): Wasn’t Pluto once a planetWhat the hell happened to Pluto anyway?

My heart broke further upon learning that not even photographs were as factual as I gave them credit for.  Take National Geographic’s 1982 cover photo—the one of the Pyramid’s of Giza—which, as a child, was solely responsible for hurling me headlong into my mummy phase.  Imagine my surprise when I learned, decades later, that those pyramids weren’t exactly as they appeared.  That those pyramids were, in fact, the victims of a digital alteration.  Apparently, an overzealous layout editor had crammed them tightly together so the photo could better fit the magazine’s frame.

If we can move an ancient pyramid with the click of a finger, I reasoned, who’s to say how far we’ll go?

As my grumbling grew louder, I began to realize that my frustration with facts was far less productive than my exploration of their unreliability.  And I figured if anything could put truth in a headlock and wrestle it into submission, it was the essay.  Not just any essay, mind you, but an essay that understood the value of the surprise attack, one willing to get the jump on truth by coming at it in a new way.

And so, weighing in at 268 pages, I humbly present to you Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction—an anthology of genre-bending essays that (at least according to the back cover copy) continually toe the line between “truth and memory, honesty and artifice, facts and lies.”  Rather than whining ad nauseam about pyramids and Pluto, I asked 20 of today’s most renowned writers and teachers to help me put truth on trial by fiddling with form, fragmentation, structure, sequence, and all the other traditional conventions essay writers hold so dear.  I was seeking a new definition of nonfiction—or at least a renewed debate on the matter—and I was grateful for the legion of intrepid explorers who dared enter into the wilderness alongside me.  Writers like Marcia Aldrich, Monica Berlin, Eula Biss, Ryan Boudinot, Ashley Butler, Steven Church, Stuart Dybek, Beth Ann Fennelly, Robin Hemley, Naomi Kimbell, Kim Dana Kupperman, Paul Maliszewski, Michael Martone, Ander Monson, Dinty W. Moore, Susan Neville, Brian Oliu, Lia Purpura, Wendy Rawlings and Ryan Van Meter.

Not only did they embark into this wilderness by offering their essays, but they even provided helpful maps in the form of mini-essays—each of which sought to give the reader new insight into the writer’s own explorations of genre.  Add to this pedagogically-practical and thematically-linked writing exercises, and readers now had a complete guidebook for this burgeoning terrain.

Taken together, these essays challenge and confound, but it’s my hope that they might also create a new space for the essay form, or at least encourage other writers to assist in mapping a landscape we know little about.

Who among us will put the pyramids back to scale or return Pluto to its planetary state?

Or more importantly, who will subvert what we think we know by showing us what we don’t?

About these ads

Tagged: , , , , , ,

§ 5 Responses to Exploring the Fringes of Nonfiction

  • Laura says:

    I’ve started reading this book and it’s excellent! It fills a gap in the conversation about memoir, the personal essay, and the freedom of form. The genesis statements both lessen and expand the mystery of composition. And the exercises given by each writer, and related directly to his/her piece, are apt, practical, and have already inspired the beginnings of one essay for this writer. Well done! (Also a great resource for teachers of writing.)

  • Ana Maria says:

    Thanks for compiling this book. I’m excited about it as a teacher and a writer. <> Yes!

  • sarahemc2 says:

    Amazon wants me to wait a painfully long time (a whole week! ) for this. Can I buy it more quickly at AWP and, if so, at which booth?

  • Dawn Marar says:

    Will BJ be on a panel at the AWP conference?

  • Angel Pricer says:

    Sounds like my kind of book! I often curtail my own musings for fear of factually blurring the terrain. I’m learning a lot though, the more I loosen up and write without worry of someone accusing me of misremembering my own stories. It’s all perception anyway, and we each have out own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Exploring the Fringes of Nonfiction at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

meta

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,638 other followers

%d bloggers like this: