The Far Edges: Interview with Joe Wilkins

April 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

It is The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre Week here on the Brevity blog. Earlier this week we posted an interview with one of the anthology’s editors, Sean Prentiss, and an excerpted chapter of the book from John Rovner. Today, in our final installment, a follow-up interview with Sean’s co-editor Joe Wilkins, conducted by Steve Coughlin.

joe wilkinsWhat are the limitations of a craft book?

JW: A craft book is by adjectival definition a book that explores a particular craft. We’re lucky in the creative writing world in that our craft is the very medium of which most books get built, so our craft books—I’m thinking here of some of my favorites: The Writing Life, The Situation and the Story, Burning Down the House—both explain and model; we get to hear about and hear how we might craft a deeper, more powerful piece of writing. All this is to say, I don’t think there are many limitations on creative writing craft books. The books I mentioned above contain chapters and sections that read like personal narratives or lyric investigations and chapters and sections that much more explicitly outline how to (or how not to) go about the craft of writing. With The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, we’ve tried to honor that tradition by gathering essays that are coming at craft from all different directions. Some, like Kim Barnes’s “The Art and Absence of Reflection in Nonfiction: What is the Why?,” are more proscriptive. Others, like Lia Purpura’s “Advice” and “On Writing ‘Advice’,” dodge and feint, attempting to spin the reader’s usual notions of craft around.

I am fascinated by the technique in nonfiction of the composite character. At what point does the combining of characters and the framing of narrative push an essay into the genre of fiction?

JW: For me, it all depends on the story. Does the frame fit the story? Does it allow the story to truly become itself? The same kinds of questions apply, I think, for composite characters or time compression or many of the other “controversial” techniques in creative nonfiction. Ander Monson, Bob Shacochis, Nancer Ballard, H. Lee Barnes, Erik Reece, and other writers included in The Far Edges speak not exactly to but through these questions, helping us as writers fixate not on the controversy but on the fundamental reasons—from nonfiction as translation to nonfiction as a unique space of literary witness—we might choose to write true stories the way we do.

As nonfiction continues to experience more innovation, do you have any concerns or reservations of form taking precedent over content?

JW: I don’t mean to be glib, but I’ll just say, nope. Think about a sonnet or an epistolary novel: the form doesn’t take precedence over or constrict—it allows. Though as creative nonfiction writers we do have the obligation to toe the line of truth as best we can (though I’d argue that obligation, too, is a kind of form that allows rather than constricts), I think the vast and varied forms we’re seeing in contemporary memoirs and essays are fascinating and exciting—and, very often, true.

Prentiss_Wilkins.inddWhat obligations do writers have in acknowledging verifiable truth versus what is often referred to as personal truth?

JW: Okay, this is my assignment answer: go read Robin Hemley’s “Lines That Create Motion,” Sean Prentiss’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Nonfiction Mind: A New Philosophy for Understanding Truth and Creative Nonfiction,” and Judith Kitchen’s “Gone A-Sailing: A Voyage to the Edge of Nonfiction (in which I Follow My Own Exercise for Writing about a Photograph),” all of which are included in The Far Edges, and report back to me.

What excites you most about the future of nonfiction?

JW: Last semester, in my literary nonfiction class, one of my students wrote a smart, challenging, heartbreaking essay partially built around standardized test questions she’d invented. My student is of Native Hawaiian and white ancestry, and with her essay she really got a hold of so many powerful questions: Who am I? Who are my people? Where do I belong? That essay excited me, as did so many others I read in that class, as have many of the memoirs and essays I’ve read in the past year. Nonfiction is simply at an exciting moment in its history. All kinds of powerful stories are being told in all kinds of striking ways.

Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers: Growing up on the Big Dry, winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award and a finalist for the 2013 Orion Book Award, and two collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. He lives with his his wife, son, and daughter in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.

Steve Coughlin‘s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Seneca Review, and Slate.com. He has never won a Pushcart Prize.

 

 

 

The Far Edges: Interview with Sean Prentiss

April 8, 2014 § 5 Comments

Sean Prentiss

Sean Prentiss

An interview with Sean Prentiss, one of the editors of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre, a new anthology of craft essays published by Michigan State University Press. Steve Coughlin interviews Prentiss on his motivation for putting The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre together and his thoughts on what to expect as this genre continues to expand and be redefined:

Where did you come up with this idea and how does it differ from other creative nonfiction anthologies?

SP: When I was in graduate school at the University of Idaho in 2006, I loved the discussions about creative nonfiction that we’d have in Mary Clearman Blew’s Techniques of Creative Nonfiction. But it often seemed as if it was just our class talking to ourselves, we were dancing in tight circles. There was no larger conversation going on that we could be a part of. There were no articles written about the pedagogy of creative nonfiction that we were aware of. So we had nothing to push us further into a discussion on what creative nonfiction is or where it could go or how it could challenge itself.

That void made me want to find the splintered conversations going on in classrooms and bars and conferences and bring them together in a collection that creative nonfiction writers could gather around and join in with.

And what we were going for here is to find the newest conversations, the ones farthest away from the center. So our writers do not wrestle often with the more traditional ideas. Instead, they linger of the edges.

What are some of the important conversations The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre explores and why are these conversations important in a larger context?

Prentiss_Wilkins.inddSP: Our authors explore a wide range of conversations, which is one of the fun things about this anthology. It meanders across and deeper into so much of creative nonfiction. Mary Clearman Blew leads us into her entry into creative nonfiction, which allows us to see how our view of creative nonfiction has evolved in the few decades since creative nonfiction has been taught on campuses. Brenda Miller, Ander Monson, and Jon Rovner all look at how technology affects creative nonfiction. Nancer Ballard and Bob Shacochis examine the use of time in creative nonfiction. Erik Reece writes about the need to bear witness in our writings. Lee Barnes, Joe Wilkins, and I delve into different corners of memory. And Kim Barnes and Brevity‘s Dinty W. Moore examine why we write and how to boil that reason to the surface of our writings.

These conversations are important because they allow writers more space to play, more styles to write within, more borders to explore, more questions to ask, more answers to contemplate.

How could this anthology supplement the classroom experience for creative writing students?

SP: When I taught senior level creative nonfiction classes, I often had to piece together readings for my students. I kept looking for a single text that advanced students (seniors or grad students) could read that would create a semester’s worth of dialog on creative nonfiction and re-shape how they write creative nonfiction. So this book is designed to fill that niche.

Judith Kitchen offers an essay that is also a writing prompt on speculation. Robin Hemley teaches us about interpreting life. Joy Castro shares her beautifully written essay, “Grip,” and then she explains how and why she wrote “Grip.” So the reader gets an insider’s view of writing, gets to live in the mind of the writer.

How has creative nonfiction evolved over the last few years and what directions do you anticipate it going in the future?

SP: It has moved away from memoir told chronologically, which is what we studied a lot in grad school. Back then, creative nonfiction felt as if it was static, as if there was little room to explore. You started at the beginning of your story and created scenes that carried you to the end.

But that has been blown apart. We have so many experimental slivers of creative nonfiction popping up. The lyrical style that Lia Purpura writes about in her essay “Advice and on Writing ‘Advice.’” The use of translation of a life that Hemley writes about really explodes biography. The heavy use of speculation to arrive at truth that Kitchen delves into. The research heavy essay that Nancer explores. The mythologies of memory that Lee Barnes writes about.

What excites you most about creative nonfiction? What are some potential concerns you have for the genre?

SP: I am excited for the growth within creative nonfiction. There is so much room for so many styles of writers. And that didn’t always seem to be the case.

I’m excited about the new discussions going on in the other anthologies and in magazines and lit journals, all the new pedagogical ideas being discussed. It’s as if we are watching creative nonfiction transform from a teenager to an adult. Individually, I’m excited for our discussions on memory and truth.

I have no concerns about creative nonfiction. I have had plenty of arguments with friends about creative nonfiction—what it is, what it can do, and where it should go. At the end of those debates, I might not agree with my friends’ ideas. But I love the space these disagreements allow. These spaces allow for new styles of creative nonfiction and new ideas on what creative nonfiction is and where it can grow.

Steve Coughlin‘s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in the Gettysburg Review, New Ohio Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Seneca Review, and Slate.com. He has never won a Pushcart Prize.

AWP 2014 :The I or the Eye

March 10, 2014 § 3 Comments

eye-black-white-ppt-backgrounds-powerpointGuest blogger Nora Maynard reviews the panel, “The I or the Eye: The Narrator’s Role in Nonfiction”

 “You think you’re yourself, but there are other persons in you.”

-John Barth, “Lost in the Funhouse”

Blogging about an AWP panel on how to craft an appropriate nonfiction narrator feels a little like stepping into a funhouse hall of mirrors.

Writing this post, I find myself becoming more self-conscious than usual about what all nonfiction writers have no choice but to do: put together narrators that are, while at the same time aren’t quite, true versions of ourselves.

As I type this, I feel hyper-aware of myself writing in a voice. (But which one, which me this time? The earnest, Latinate word-using one from university? The cheerful, forthright, service journalist one? The just-the-facts-ma’am, board meeting minutes-taking one? The introspective, image-filled, personal essay-writing one?)

And as I review all that took place in that conference room in Washington State Convention Center the last week, I also find myself thinking about the distinctive voices of the panel’s four presenters: Michael Steinberg, Lia Purpura, Phillip Lopate, and Robert Root, all extraordinarily accomplished, yet contrastingly different, nonfictionists, each using a unique voice to describe his or her own distinctive approach to, yes, nonfiction narrative voice.

It’s all kind of dizzying.

But now it’s time for this “I” to step aside and become an “eye.” Here’s a little sampling of what each panelist said:

1. Michael Steinberg: Where to sit? Center stage–or off?

Moderator Michael Steinberg explained that Elyssa East, who played a key role in the planning and development of the panel, recently had a baby and wasn’t able to attend the conference. Steinberg talked about East’s book Dogtown, which is largely a work of investigative journalism, but includes a very personal section about what drew her to her subject in the first place. Steinberg said the book got him thinking about why some narrators are situated center stage, while others sit in the periphery, offstage. How do we, as writers, choose?

Steinberg offered this quotation from David Shields: “Find the form that releases your best intelligence. Find what you do exquisitely well and play it to the hilt.”

2. Lia Purpura: Step away from the self

Lia Purpura pointed out some of the pitfalls of being overly self-conscious as a writer. She acknowledged that “a strong voice is a powerful idea-delivery system,” but warned that “talking about voice an awful lot as a creator, and too early on in the process may put pressure on the writer to compose in a certain way, that is, to be led by attitude, to foreground a personality–at the expense of recognizing other generative gestures.”

She suggested that a writer might do best to stay alert and open to the new, the unexpected, and the mysterious during the process of writing, rather than adhering to a pre-determined voice. But she also acknowledged the paradox of any attempt to truly sidestep one’s own self: “I move through everything I write as, well, me.”

3. Phillip Lopate: Focus on your contradictions and conflicts

Phillip Lopate traced the roots of his own interest in narrator as character back to an early love of Dostoevsky. He recalled how much he enjoyed the voice of the ranting, first-person narrator of Notes from Underground, quoting the novel’s opening lines: “I am a sick man….I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver.”

He also cited the cheekily provocative tone used by the philosopher Nietzsche, as well as Browning’s self-revealing, unreliable narrator in the poem “My Last Duchess” as other early influences. He advised writers to focus on their own internal contradictions and conflicts as a way of building narrative tension and interest. He encouraged us all to embrace what Frank O’Hara once called “the catastrophe of one’s personality.”

4. Robert Root: Approximate your authentic self

Robert Root listed some of the many hats he’s worn as a writer: “rhetorical-slash-literary academic, a composition-slash-creative nonfiction teacher, a radio commentator, an en plein air essayist, a memoirist,” and described some of the problems of hopping from genre to genre. He recalled how he was once taken to task by an editor for including a joke in an academic article, then later criticized by a book reviewer for being too academic when he used the word “persona” in a book he wrote about E. B. White. Root spoke about the importance of, as writer of creative nonfiction, transcending the conventions and expectations of genre and remaining true to one’s own authentic self.

He wrapped up the afternoon’s discussion with these final words:

“In creative nonfiction, we not only have the freedom but also the necessity of being narrative and expository or experiential and reflective in the same work, to simultaneously be both the I and the Eye in the same essay, even in the same paragraph. For me, that involves listening to myself and being alert for signs of a split personality, making sure I am the first person who is speaking, keeping myself—even when I’m offstage—the matter of my book.”

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Nora Maynard‘s work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, the Ploughshares blog, and The Millions, among others. She recently finished her ninth marathon and first novel. Visit her website at http://www.noramaynard.com/.

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?

Help Set the Welcome Table

February 11, 2013 § 2 Comments

YouBeing 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).

An Essay Renaissance? We Hope So

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.”

Ulin’s full essay can be found here.

The 2012 Guggenheim Fellows in Nonfiction

April 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Just announced.  We are so happy for Lia Purpura, a Brevity contributor and wonderful essayist.

General Nonfiction

Alison Bechdel
Eliza Griswold
James Kaplan
Peter Maass
Sarah Manguso
Eileen Myles
Judith Pascoe
Lia Purpura
Lauren Redniss
Joan Richardson
Elizabeth D. Samet
Richard Snow
Benjamin Taylor

Best American Brevity Authors

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.

AWP 2011: Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay

February 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Guest blogger Margaret Kimball, a Tucson-based multidisciplinary illustrator/designer, reports on a lyric essay discussion at the most recent AWP Conference:
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Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay
Panelists: Steven Harvey, Kathryn Winograd, Robert Root (in absentia), Rebecca McClanahan
In a standing-room only space amidst a largely and perhaps notably female audience, a group of AWP-goers gathered to discuss the lyric essay: what the name means, what it is, what it might be. Here are my notes from the conversation, delineated by speaker.
Introduction (Steven Harvey)
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)
  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Close Cover After Striking
    • - Need two or three elements to start something
  4. Lyric Essay as Time Travel, or Move Fluidly In and Out of Time
    • - Elements of the essay existing on independent and colliding time tracks
  5. 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)
  6. Caution: Contents Under Pressure
    • - Every word matters
    • - What is the musical score running beneath essay
    • - Subject must fit its container
  7. Say It Again, Sam
    • - Tone poems, repeating phrases/sounds/mantra
    • - Repeated loops or braids (In nebraska, ted)
  8. Take a Breath
    • - Music only exists because of silence between the sounds
  9. Right Here, Right Now
    • - Feeling of immediacy, of a mind is discovering its subject even as words appear on page
  10. 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
  11. Imagine There’s a Heaven or Hell
    • - Speculate, wonder, imagine, the gift of perhaps
  12. Go Ahead and Wear the Crazy Hat
    • - Be weird, idiosyncratic structure
    • - Hat alone isn’t enough; object of affection/true subject
  13. Get Out While the Getting’s Good
    • - Endings as openings; allow reader to complete transaction; reader supplies final chord
This is Not a Lyric Essay (Robert Root, read by Harvey)
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.
How Important White Space is in Poems and the Lyric Essay (Kathryn Winograd)
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.

Unmaking of the Made-Up Self (Steven Harvey)
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.

AWP Nonfiction Cheat Sheet: Friday Afternoon

January 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

If you’ve been following along, you  know that by now we’ve all fainted in the lobby:

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.

Executive Room
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

Ambassador Ballroom
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

Harding Room
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.

Diplomat Ballroom
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.

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