March 2, 2013 § 5 Comments
A 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 planet? What 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?
February 11, 2013 § 2 Comments
Being an independent publisher is tough going these days, but being an independent publisher focusing on the personal essay tradition can be an even bigger challenge. Those of us who love the form love it madly, but in truth, we may be a small number Welcome Table Press is trying to thrive despite these odds, and to that end they have launched an IndieGoGo campaign. You can read all about it, see the video, and contribute to the cause here.
Meanwhile, here’s a summary of their plans:
All contributions collected from this Indiegogo campaign will be directed toward the continued printing and distribution of our first two print books, YOU. AN ANTHOLOGY OF ESSAYS DEVOTED TO THE SECOND PERSON, edited by Kim Dana Kupperman, with Heather G. Simons & James M. Chesbro, and ESSAYING THE ESSAY, edited by David Lazar.
YOU. AN ANTHOLOGY is a first-of-its-kind collection, featuring essays that explore failure, planetary movement, and love, among a variety of topics. The up close and personal candor of these autobiographical, lyric, personal, and segmented narratives is tempered by the distance, intimacy, humor, and unsentimental tenderness that the second-person point of view affords both writer and reader.
ESSAYING THE ESSAY is a must-have compendium of essays on the essay, showcasing diverse meditations on the form by a wide range of writers throughout history, including Michel de Montaigne, Samuel Johnson, Virginia Woolf, Cynthia Ozick, Phillip Lopate, Robert Atwan, Lia Purpura, and John D’Agata.
Your support will help build our self-sufficiency (pre-press, printing, and advertising are expensive; the larger the print run, the lower the cost per title; distributing books costs money too).
June 13, 2012 § 2 Comments
David L. Ulin at the Los Angeles Times suggests we may be experiencing an essay renaissance with this quick review of five new books (two by Brevity authors, Lia Purpura and Judith Kitchen.) Here are his nice words on Lia and Judith, followed by a link to the entire (brief) review:
Lia Purpura’s “Rough Likeness” (Sarabande: 150 pp., $15.95 paper) is all about looking: at a landscape, at language, at a sign. The truest-looking, though, comes on the inside, as Purpura goes beneath the surface, writing not just about what she sees but what it means. “Rain coming harder,” she writes in her opening to “Against ‘Gunmetal.’” “Of interest … because rain alters people in unexpected ways. And the unexpected makes people so human. … Remember that.”
In “Half in Shade: Family, Photography, and Fate” (Coffee House: 204 pp., $16 paper), Judith Kitchen uses family photos as a hinge for her own interior investigation — into love, doubt, family and time. Weaving actual images directly into the book, she addresses what she doesn’t know, what she can’t know, as evocatively as what she can. “This is not art,” she writes in “On Snapshots: A Sonnet.” “This is the black and white of birthdays and summer vacations. Grandma’s Sunday best.”
April 12, 2012 § Leave a Comment
October 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
We were a bit late getting our copy of Best American Essays 2011 because the donkey mail cart got stuck in the mud outside of Coolville, but we have it now, and are pleased to see so many Brevity authors represented. Steven Church’s brilliant essay on sound, “Auscultation,” made the front of the book alongside Lia Purpura’s meditation on changing land, “There are Things Awry Here.” A joyful number of Brevity authors made the Notable section in the back as well, including Marcia Aldrich, Susanne Antonetta, Joe Bonomo, Barrie Jean Borich, Brian Doyle, Gary Fincke, Kim Dana Kupperman, Margaret MacInnis, Patrick Madden, Lee Martin, Dinty W. Moore (Brevity‘s founding editor), Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Anne Panning, Joel Peckham and Ira Sukrungruang. We keep good company, we think.
February 7, 2011 § 2 Comments
Panelists: Steven Harvey, Kathryn Winograd, Robert Root (in absentia), Rebecca McClanahan
The lyric essay was first named by Deborah Tall in 1994, then-editor of Seneca Review, in a note to John D’Agata. What she said was that he was looking for a form not by information but by possibility of transformative experience. You are talking about the lyric, she’d said. Then Steven asked: but what does a definition matter? Rather, we should ask: when is a lyric essay good? The lyric is a license to experiment, to play with language but must always contain a sense of intensity, level of passion and intelligence. (Throughout the intro, names were dropped: Eula Biss, Lia Purpura, D’Agata and one affectionately named nay-sayer, Philip Lopate.)
Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Lyric Essay in 15 Minutes (Rebecca McClanahan)
- Something Like Music in My Head
- - Not all music is melodic (atonal, minor key)
- - Change a note or two and the essay is a different key
- Beauty is as Beauty Does
- - Subject need not be pretty poetic or musical or serious
- - Humor is almost never discussed with lyricism
- - Does not have to be large or on the surface important
- - Absolute attention is prayer
- Close Cover After Striking
- - Need two or three elements to start something
- Lyric Essay as Time Travel, or Move Fluidly In and Out of Time
- - Elements of the essay existing on independent and colliding time tracks
- How Many I’s Does It Take to Change an Essay
- - Speaker as I
- - The I might be absent at first
- - There might be multiple variations on self (past, present)
- Caution: Contents Under Pressure
- - Every word matters
- - What is the musical score running beneath essay
- - Subject must fit its container
- Say It Again, Sam
- - Tone poems, repeating phrases/sounds/mantra
- - Repeated loops or braids (In nebraska, ted)
- Take a Breath
- - Music only exists because of silence between the sounds
- Right Here, Right Now
- - Feeling of immediacy, of a mind is discovering its subject even as words appear on page
- Ride the Train of Thought or Language All the Way to Meaning
- - Language (leaps of thought), engine that pulls the train of meaning
- - Balance between music and meaning
- Imagine There’s a Heaven or Hell
- - Speculate, wonder, imagine, the gift of perhaps
- Go Ahead and Wear the Crazy Hat
- - Be weird, idiosyncratic structure
- - Hat alone isn’t enough; object of affection/true subject
- Get Out While the Getting’s Good
- - Endings as openings; allow reader to complete transaction; reader supplies final chord
The lyric essay might be considered as a kind of blurting of words: unplanned, spontaneous, first and final draft, charged. It has a kind of inadvertence. The lyric can be felt in the blood. Place is a lyric essay. Deborah Tall said of the lyric it partakes of the essay in its weight, in its desire to engage with facts, in its passion. The form is simultaneously essay and poem and music; attends language with precision and rigor but with a different vision from poetry about what it might achieve. The lyric is an entity in itself; embodies a sense of wholeness; is an essence; is not decorative. As Lia Purpura says: the form is a necessity of thought.
In a poem, white space is everything on the page unmarked. It has the power of juxtaposition; is the poet’s unspeakable; it is movement mapped out. Essays speak of the vertical movement of the essay (verticality through associative memory, descriptions); they contain intersections of consciousness and unconsciousness, of associations. For a poet, white space is what they cannot or will not say, it is their essential unsayable; that which is understood only on intuitive level. Beneath everything I am writing is absence. The ultimate tension in writing, in white space: what is written v. what is not.
Harvey found the lyric after becoming weary of his own voice. After he realized the self as top hat and cape of imagination. The lyric offers a breakdown of the persona, a kind of portal in which the self comes apart, in which the process of disintegration is seen. In the lyric, the voice is absorbed by subject matter and the self-assured persona is liberated. In Mark Doty’s Still Life With Oysters and Lemon, we witness an insistently low-key self, a weary voice in transformation. In this voice, the I is enlarged by becoming part of something bigger than itself; the self does not have the last word but blossoms, allows itself to be transformed by bumps and texts and countertexts and new information.
January 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
Friday Noon to 1:15 pm
Nathan Hale Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level
F148. Literary Science Writing: Don’t Be Scared. (David Everett, Nancy Shute, James Shreeve, Christopher Joyce) Many nonfiction writers either don’t understand or are afraid of the challenges of writing about science, medicine, technology, or other complicated subjects. But this panel of experienced writers argues that the best science writing can be as ambitious as the best literary writing on any subject. Good science writing, in fact, may be more challenging, because it requires a journalist’s regard for accuracy plus the ability to explain complex subjects with grace, passion, and literary skill.
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
F160. Memoir, Spirituality and the Self in the Narcissistic Culture of Our Time. (Elizabeth Kadetsky, Rodger Kamenetz, Farideh Goldin, Julia Spicher Kasdorf) If one believes the detractors, memoir bears responsibility second only to reality TV for fomenting this “narcissistic” age, in Christopher Lasch’s term—an era of therapeutic jargon that celebrates not so much individualism as solipsism, justifying self-absorption as “authenticity” and “awareness.” Here, we consider quests for self-knowledge as linked, rather, to a spiritual project. How can memoir point to places beyond the self—to transcendence, insight or affiliation with human community?
Friday, 1:30 to 2:45 pm
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
F179. Stranger Than Fiction: The Choice Between Fiction and Nonfiction. (Robin Romm, Kerry Cohen, Pam Houston, Cheryl Strayed, Richard McCann) Most every writer has a personal story to tell. But with memoir comes potential harm—for friends, family, and themselves. Writers often wonder if they could simply change their stories to fiction. How do authors choose between fiction and nonfiction when telling their stories? Can the same story be both fiction and memoir? Five authors who have made such choices will discuss the reasons behind their decisions, and the ramifications of having done so.
Friday, 3 to 4:15 pm
Thurgood Marshall North Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level
F195. Flinging the Ink Pot: Resisting Messages About Off-Limits Subjects in Memoir. (Jill Christman, Kate Hopper, Paul Lisicky, Joe Mackall, Sue William Silverman) This panel of memoirists will consider what happens when we write about subjects that are commonly lumped together and dismissed by the publishing industry. It seems we shouldn’t talk about abuse, addiction, or parenting of any stripe. Why are certain subjects seen as played out, clichéd, and sensational? We will consider whether we can avoid categorizing giant facets of human experience as literary no-nos, and find our way back to the serious writing of the stories we need to tell.
Friday, 4:30 to 5:45 pm
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level
F210. What the Narrator Doesn’t Know: The Importance of Speculation in Narrative. (Jill McCabe Johnson, David Huddle, Dinah Lenney, Lee Martin, Lia Purpura) Should narrators admit what they don’t know? Does ignorance discredit the nonfiction author? Listen to four writers discuss how they use speculation to openly investigate questions, uncover the narrator’s vulnerabilities, delve more deeply into narrative, and intensify plot. Learn how not knowing can build credibility and open possibilities for the author, while inviting the reader to embark with you on a journey of exploration.
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby
F223. Interviewing In My Underwear: Adventures as a Female Memoirist. (Wendy Sumner-Winter, Barrie Jean Borich, Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, Kerry Cohen, Brenda Miller) We’ve all heard that confession is good for the soul, but how about for a woman living in the real world? Six memoirists discuss the familial, professional, social costs and benefits—and everything in between—of being a woman who writes candidly about her body, her physical life, her sex life, her carnal appetites. We will talk about what it is like to navigate our various social and political worlds having told, literally, the naked truth.
October 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
A grateful tip of the hat to The Missouri Review blog’s Robert Long Foreman for singling out Lia Purpura’s recent Brevity essay, “On Being a Trucker,“ in his blog post examining the essay, and the moral essay in particular. Here’s an excerpt of his discussion, but read Foreman’s full entry, it is well worth it:
To demonstrate the virtues of creative nonfiction – and of the essay in particular – I turned to Lia Purpura’s “On Being a Trucker.” It begins with speculation as to the language used by truckers to describe their cargoes, and then follows a quick series of associations to reach a conclusion that is utterly astonishing, given the sweep of its implications, its apparent distance from the opening lines, and the celerity with which its author leads us to them.
… Purpura’s essay is like a precisely landed punch to the chest, and it makes plain several of the things I value in the essay, or in creative nonfiction generally. One is obvious: Purpura’s relationship to her reader is a rather unique one, one by which she may offer her simulated train of thought in a more or less straightforward fashion, directly from writer to reader. The essay as a genre is also known, I explained to my very small audience, for precisely the sort of movements Purpura makes, as an essay follows a series of unlikely associations, often to their equally unlikely conclusion. Not only does the piece demonstrate – and very briefly – the virtues of the essay; it is simply a great piece of writing.
June 29, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The Sixth-Ever Black Warrior Review Contest now features nonfiction (for the first time ever) with guest judge Lia Purpura. Well, it is about time, wouldn’t you say?
Winners in each genre will receive $1,000 and publication in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue. Finalists in each category will receive notation in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue and are also considered for publication.
Reading Fee is $15 per short story (up to 7500 words), $15 per nonfiction piece (up to 7500 words), and $15 per group of up to 3 poems.
All contestants will also receive a complimentary one-year subscription.