Brevity’s Race, Racism, and Racialization Special Issue

September 12, 2016 § 2 Comments

philyaw_Brevity’s 52nd issue, reporting and examining lived experiences of race, racism, and racialization and the intersections between race and gender, class, dis/ability, and language, launched today.

Our Special issue includes work by Roxane Gay, Kendra Allen, Julie Azzam, Sasha Bonét, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Sarah Chávez, Tyrese Coleman, Alice Rose Crow, Bradley Donaldson, Katelyn Hemmeke, Jacob Hilton, Deeshaw Philyaw, Lisa Romeo, Sejal Shah, Samuel Stokley, Christina Tang-Bernas, and our first ever student writing competition winner, Danielle Geller. Our special guest editors are Joy Castro and Ira Sukrungruang and our guest artist is Damon Locks.

The issue would never have been possible without the focused efforts of our Special Projects Editor Sarah Einstein.

The brief essays we present cannot, of course, cover the subject completely, and there were many crucial voices and perspectives we could not fit into this issue. We received over 400 submissions, and we hope that every author who sent work to us that we couldn’t publish here will send out those works until they are published elsewhere, because this is a conversation that should not—cannot—be limited to special issues and certain journals. This is a conversation that needs to be happening all the time, everywhere.

Our hope is that these essays will spark the conversations that we, as a nation and as citizens of the world, desperately need to be having about how race is constructed, the many great indignities of racism, and the ways in which racialization serves the interests of those systems which rely on the marginalization of the other in order to maintain power. The goal of this issue is not to try to host this conversation in all its complexity, but merely to offer up a number of points of entry from which the reader can find her own way into that conversation.

Thanks for reading.

Today’s Lesson: Writing Is Art

August 24, 2016 § 8 Comments

zz iowaBy Debbie Hagan

In part two of this two-part blog post on teaching creative nonfiction using newly released essay anthologies, Debbie Hagan discusses I’ll Tell You Mine: Thirty Years of Essays from the Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program (University of Chicago Press, 2016) and how it motivated her to create a show-and-tell lesson on revision and encourage students to think of writing as art.

Last semester I tried something new and a bit risky with my students. Actually it was an old idea, but I’d never summoned up the courage to actually try it. Then I read a new creative nonfiction anthology, I’ll Tell You Mine: Thirty Years of Essays from the Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program. In a roundabout way, this book supported ideas I’d wrestled with for years about revising and rewriting. Even more it pushed me to actually try this idea.

For eight years, I’ve been teaching basic writing to budding artists at a small art school in New Hampshire. Because they are reluctant writers, I tailored my classes around their interests. We read about art, looked at art, used art as writing prompts, and compared art making to writing. While they enjoyed free writing exercises, they hated rewriting. They considered it a waste of time.

My aha moment came while reading I’ll Tell You Mine. I figured this would be just “the best of” NWP essays, but it was far better. Hope Edelman and Robin Hemley curated this volume of innovative writing by tracking down eighteen essays that began at NWP, but were reworked and rewritten years later. Most helpful to me were the writers’ candid “after” comments. They traced the essay’s many steps, from the initial idea, to technique decisions (form, voice, tone, and point of view), to feedback, and then, ultimately, to revision. I found the writers’ comments insightful, because as thrilling as writing can be, truth is, it can also be a slog.

“One Blue Note,” by Marilyn Abildskov, is sort of a love letter to a Japanese salaryman who discovers the meaning of life by opening his own jazz club. The writer reveals that the early drafts left her discouraged. “I was trying to write about the place in a journalistic way, rather than the way I experienced it: impressionistically,” she says.  Around this same time, she discovered a new fact: jazz is built around three notes. These two new thoughts helped her re-envision the essay: how to start, what to say, and where to focus. All this reworking resulted in a hypnotic essay built around the evocative nuances of jazz and language. About the process, Abildskov concludes, “Timing is everything, isn’t it? And readiness.”

Debbie Hagan

Debbie Hagan

Readiness…yes! Essays must be unraveled. It can take a week, a month, a year, or six years in the case of Michelle Morano, who wrote “Grammar Lessons: The Subjunctive Mood.” Her essay began in a bar discussing difficulties she’d had with the French subjective tense. The first draft came in a rush. Phillip Lopate read it, liked it, but admitted it didn’t hold up well in “re-reading.” The reader didn’t gain anything new the second time around, he said, and pushed Morano to dig deeper, build stronger resonances, create more meaning. After six years, she did it. Her essay appeared in the Best American Essays 2006.

It’s a slightly different story with Ryan Van Meter, who says, “I know I want to write an essay when I find a contradiction within myself, usually within a personal experience I want to figure out—an event with a beginning, middle, and an end.” In “Things I Will Want to Tell You on Our First Date But Won’t,” he struggled with form.  Van Meter wanted to write about the contradiction between his desire to date (being single after eight years), but not wanting to spend the first date reliving the past.

Van Meter tried various forms—first a monologue, then an open letter. Susan Lohafer, NWP workshop leader, suggested that if he wanted to borrow a form, he should use it “to its fullest potential.” That’s when he settled upon a list.

By the time I’d finished this book, I couldn’t wait to dig out my languishing essays. Also, I imagined tooling these ideas into a lesson about revising/rewriting. That’s when I decided to try this idea I’d been mulling over. I would share with students a first draft of one of my essays.

Immediately a legion of demons descended upon me. I never show first drafts to anyone. I’d just as soon parade in front of my class in my underwear than show my unfinished work. My students are killer critics: There’s nothing special about John Updike; Annie Dillard is such a bore; Susan Sontag does nothing but talk in circles. I could hear what they’d say about me: She’s not much of a writer if she has to rewrite this seven or eight times.

This is what had stopped me from doing this exercise before. This time, I pressed on. I knew writers far better than I had rewritten the same essay—sometimes for years. I realized, there’s no shame in digging deeper, adding new thoughts, revising ideas until they’d reached their full potential.

By my own example, I wanted students to see that writing in drafts is a lot like sketching. A mark is laid, then another. The artist tries one angle, then another. The artist plays with shadows and light. A sketch may evolve into painting or may forever stay in the sketchbook. It’s like journaling, capturing thoughts to see where they might go.

In class, I passed around both the first and finished drafts of my essay, while my heart pounded wildly in my chest. One of my students read the first draft and stumbled over some of the rougher spots. I pointed this out: “When you read your work aloud, you can hear the spots that need more polish.”

I read the final draft. For the first time all semester, no one talked or sneezed or played with their cell phones. All eyes were on me. When I finished, there was long, gaping silence, which sort of scared me. I waited for one of them to make the first move. The girl who had read the first essay spoke slowly: “It’s as if each word was chosen for a purpose.” Yes!

Another student added, “This is way beyond anything most of us were taught in high school.” Yes! We’re creating art.

Artist John Berger, in his 1953 essay, “Drawing Is Discovery,” described art making in this way:

For the artist, drawing is discovery. And that is not just a slick phrase, it is quite literary true. It is the act of drawing that forces the artist to look at the object in front of him, to dissect it with his mind’s eye and put it together again; or, if he’s drawing from memory, that forces him to dredge his own mind, to discover the content of his own store of past observations.

Substitute writing for drawing. The writer must look, think, draw connections, and go back over the work again and again. That’s how we discover what’s true. That’s how we understand what it means to live and survive on this crazy planet. This is exactly what I wanted students to understand.

Right now I’m in the throes of working on my fall syllabus. This year I’ll be teaching a similar class, Thinking, Making, Writing, also aimed at art students, but this time at Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I’m going to try the same exercise this semester, but I’ll ask students to bring in their sketchbooks. Together we’ll share what it means to create art.


Read Part One: Today’s Lesson: What’s Missing

Debbie Hagan is book reviews editor for Brevity and former editor-in-chief of Art New England. Her work has appeared in Hyperallergic, Brain, Child, Boston Globe, Dime Story, and elsewhere. She looks forward to teaching this fall at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.



Today’s Lesson: What’s Missing

August 22, 2016 § 8 Comments

Two recently released creative nonfiction anthologies, Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with the Writers (Excelsior Editions, 2016) and I’ll Tell You Mine: Thirty Years of Essays from the Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program (University of Chicago Press, 2015) offer a stunning array of  contemporary creative nonfiction writing, and coincidentally both offer candid interviews with the writers about inspirations, challenges faced, and decisions to fully realize these works. Such frank conversations can lead to teachable moments in the classroom. In this two-part blog post, Jeanette Luise Eberhardy and Debbie Hagan not only examine these anthologies, but also lessons to be learned.

z cnPart One By Jeanette Luise Eberhardy

When I teach creative nonfiction writing to art students, they are most interested in two skills: omission and perhapsing. The skill of omission, examined by John McPhee in an essay in the New Yorker (2015), asks the writer to carefully consider what details are excluded. Art students relate omission to their understanding of negative space—that space on the page that remains after a mark is made. They recognize that marks or thoughts that are omitted may reveal more about the messy business of living. The skill perhapsing also considers what is missing. Perhapsing, introduced by Lisa Knopp in a craft essay in Brevity (2009), gives the writer a way to wonder about circumstances in a nonfiction narrative without making up facts. The word perhaps (or other phrases such as could have been or may have been), signals to readers that the writer has left the realm of direct observation or documented research. Omission and perhapsing allow the writer and reader to explore the space between the known and the unknown in the context of the ever-evolving self. A new book of essays considers the mysterious nature of the vast territory between the known and the unknown: Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with the Writers, edited by Jen Hirt and Erin Murphy. In this anthology, the layers of experience are represented in a wide variety of forms including segmented and lyric essays, blog posts and personal narratives, graphic essays, as well as the definition essay. Here I will focus on essays that experiment with using omission and perhapsing to open up writing and to enlist readers’ participation in this conversation on celebrating life.

The complicated work of examining the impact of omission is addressed by writer Faith Adiele in her definition essay, “How to Make Sense of the Postcolonial Nation-State: A Definition Essay Using Material Lifted Almost Entirely from the Internet as Annotated by the Author, Herself a Nigerian American.” Adiele uses material from the internet to examine instances of “cultural appropriation and stolen narratives” on Nigeria. Adiele, born to a Nigerian father and a Nordic-American mother, assesses what is omitted from the definitions of Nigeria by striking a line through the original internet text (and leaving it in her essay). By making explicit the implicit biases, she invites the reader to actively participate in a conversation on the extent of inaccurate information about Nigeria. She creates a more truthful story about Nigeria to preserve diversity with respect for the generations that came before her as well the generations that will follow her.

In the essay “Kestrel Avenue,” writer Cheryl Strayed also explores the relationship between the skill of omission and the on-going nature of shifting perceptions. Strayed compares a newspaper article on a bank robbery she wrote at age eighteen with this essay written twenty-eight years later. The earlier newspaper report left out the fact that her family knew the bank robber. Her eighteen–year­–­old self did not want to admit this knowledge. In the interview following her essay, Strayed identifies the tension between knowing and refusing to know. We know that at the heart of any “refusing to know” is the fear of loss. A few years before the incident, Strayed’s family provided shelter to the bank robber when he was passing through town. What was the loss Strayed did not want to face? Readers may wonder and consider their own peculiar fears around loss and withholding knowledge.  The students that I teach are most interested in Strayed’s last question in the interview: “What role does omission play in truth-telling?”

zz Eberhardy Photo B&W

Jeanette Luise Eberhardy

The skill of perhapsing also plays an important role in transforming truth into art. In “The Third Step,” Sheryl St. Germain begins her essay on doubt by perhapsing what sort of day it was when her friend’s son was killed on his motorcycle. “A sunny day? Blue skies? Trees budding? First fragile flowers in bloom?” This particular use of perhapsing introduces the humble feeling of not knowing while the writer participates in a funeral service in a church where she no longer believes its creed.  Perhapsing helps to make visible her struggle with conflicting needs: wanting to believe in something, showing compassion for the dead son, respecting the grieving family, and acting with integrity with herself. Perhapsing opens the space to reflect on these conflicting needs. This may be why students acknowledge the impact of perhapsing more than any other skill they learn during my creative nonfiction writing courses.

More subtle forms of perhapsing are shown in the space between word and images in Kristen Radtke’s graphic essay “The City of the Century” where a young woman reflects on photos she and her friends stole from an abandoned cathedral. Through  research on the internet, the main character discovers the photos are from a memorial service for a twenty-four-year-old urban explorer who was run over while trying to take pictures of an oncoming train. Drawn images of ruins of the church, railroad tracks, and the young woman who discovered the photos accompany this text: “I stare at the pictures for a long time to draw conclusions that are not mine to draw.” The space between the panels may prolong the opening of readers’ perceptions and suspend simplistic notions they might entertain about what it means to feel vulnerable in this moment. Together images, words, and the space between panels create an artistic bridge that helps the reader imagine the many layers of this experience. In the interview after the essay, Radtke explains that image, word, and space play off each other and express the feeling that “we don’t always get things right,” which can lead to a “much richer dialogue.” Perhapsing in all its forms offers the opportunity to deepen this dialogue in a more authentic way. And isn’t this what the writer hopes for—a genuine conversation with the reader?

The use of space is also important in the segmented essays in this collection. For example, in Dinty W. Moore’s essay “Tooth and Claw,” compassion is explored in many forms: a neighbor who tenaciously controls the growth of dandelions in her grass (using a sewing scissors) while she cares for her husband who had a massive stroke a few years earlier; the writer’s interest in growing Italian dandelions; the rugged nature of this plant with its important healing properties. The space between each segment in Moore’s essay leaves room for reflection and permits readers to make their own meaning.

While I teach a variety of skills in creative nonfiction writing—using evocative objects for central images, creating mind maps to exercise the skill of conceptual blending, experimenting with sequencing information, and building scenes with dialogue—students have taught me that omission and perhapsing help them to realize and remember this truth: we see more than we understand.  At the end of one semester, a student said, “Now I can look for the skills and techniques in other writing. I especially look for perhapsing to see what it brings to a piece. I like seeing what was added and imagining what was left out.” Creating Nonfiction: Twenty Essays and Interviews with Writers offers new opportunities to consider the way we hold conversations with our experiences and with our readers.


Jeanette Luise Eberhardy, PhD, MFA, designs educational experiences for students, artists, and professionals on crafting stories for meaningful work. She has delivered her Storyforth seminars in Egypt, Sweden, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and the U.S. At the 17th Annual Women’s International Conference in Berlin (2014), Eberhardy gave the opening address Your Story Matters to 800 women business leaders. Eberhardy serves as program director, 1st Year Writing, and assistant professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

The Ugly Truth: An Advice Column for Nonfiction Writers

August 15, 2016 § 13 Comments

Some pointed advice channeled through guest blogger Anita Gill:

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Anita Gill (aka Ugly Truth)

Dear Ugly Truth,

I want to write a memoir about my childhood, but I can’t seem to do it. Every time I sit down to start writing about it, I freeze up. I can’t put down a single word.

I’m so scared that my family will read my memoir and we will have a falling out. I’ve heard of this happening to many memoirists, and I don’t want to do any damage to my family.

How do I get over this fear and write?


Writer’s Block

*          *          *

Dear Writer’s Block,

Ah, the fear before the plunge! There’s so much at stake! You have a story you want to share with the world, and by “world” I’m referring to the 15 sentient beings who still read books. You have a narrator looking back on her past and trying to make sense of everything that happened, and coming to some illuminating reasons.

But what if Aunt Gayle gets upset you mentioned her seventh toe? Or how will your mother feel when you include that one time she forgot to pick you up from school and the Wattersons had to take you to their house and feed you stale crackers from their pantry?

Your paralyzing trepidation is merited. Every nonfiction writer who turns inward must face this. That’s why I’ve made a foolproof plan to help you with the process.

Don’t write the memoir. Ever!

Think about it: no one can get mad at something you never wrote!

Okay, I know my argument might seem extreme, but hear me out. I’m sure you’ve heard Anne Lamott’s quote, “You own everything that happened to you.” A lot of writers like to tote that around as a way to encourage you to write your memoir. The quote might be true, but your parents owned you, too. Cause they made you. Ergo, owning what happened to you means they have to own what happened too. Are you ready to draw out that contract with them? It’s almost as bad as being 30 and signing up with your parents for a Verizon family plan! And you don’t want to get their phone calls at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, complaining that you used up all of their data with photos of dogs in a BabyBjörn. That metaphor might seem drawn out, but I think I made myself clear. Don’t. Write.

You have so much to gain from thwarting your creative faculties. First off, you won’t be thinking about those horrible memories anymore. No sir! Put those away and bury them deep inside. Hold them in like a fart at a business meeting. There will be a time to express those feelings when you’re drunk next Thanksgiving or Kwanzaa. Don’t put your thoughts on paper where the public can read it and relate to the trials you endured.

The second advantage is you will have a lot more free time, so put it to good, productive use. Join a spin class. Learn to bake your own bread. Master a foreign language like Mandarin or Gaelic. Whatever you do, it will be much more rewarding than sitting at home alone all day, eating nothing but dry cereal, staring at a computer screen and writing terrible sentences for a mediocre book that you doubt will ever see the light of day. Why put yourself through all of that torture when Richard Simmons offers aerobics classes at his studio for only 15 dollars. Let me say that again. Fifteen. Dollars. Richard Simmons. Now you have something to talk to your parents about instead of drudging up those harmful memories you’re trying to make sense of.

So don’t write it in the first place! Do what normal people do. Avoid the issue. Binge Netflix. Dress up your cat as historic Civil War generals. That’s so much better than reaching deep down, finding a kernel of truth in this existence and putting it out there. There can’t be any good to come from that.


The Ugly Truth

Anita Gill was given this name when she was born so that her grandparents could pronounce it, but they called her “Annie” instead. She teaches English and writing in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Internet TendencyApeiron ReviewHippocampus MagazineDefenestration, and Eastlit.

The MFA as Calling Card Round-Up

August 12, 2016 § 9 Comments


Your Helpful MFA Mentor

Last month we ran Emily Smith’s blog post suggesting that the MFA in creative writing was a calling card of sorts, allowing entry into certain corners of the literary world.  The post garnered plenty of  commentary, and a number of follow-up blog posts.  Here they are, all rounded up into one neat package, for your reading pleasure (or to share with your students contemplating a graduate degree):

The MFA as Calling Card, by Emily Smith

The MFA is Not a Calling Card, by Dinty W. Moore

The MFA is Not A Calling Card: The Low-Residency View, by Kevin Haworth

Why the MFA was the Right Choice for Me, by Jayme Russell

The MFA as Friend, by Kelly Green

The MFA as Rampant Careerism, by Matthew Schmeer

No MFA for Me, by Tim Drugan-Eppich





The MFA as Rampant Careerism

August 10, 2016 § 11 Comments

Matthew Schmeer adds his voice to the “Of What Use is the MFA?” discussion:

Let me tell you my story.

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Matthew Schmeer

I wanted an MFA and I wanted to teach.

I had been stuck in a technical writing/project management office job
I hated after dropping out of college. My wife (wise woman that she is) encouraged me to go back to school, finish my BA, and apply to graduate schools. She agreed to keep her secretarial job until I graduated and landed a teaching position.

So I quit and went back to school. But not without doing my homework first.

Before applying to graduate schools in 1998, I did my homework. I
looked at positions advertised in The MLA Joblist, The Chronicle of
Higher Education, and The Writer’s Chronicle and realized that getting
a tenure track teaching position to teach poetry with was nigh
impossible unless you were 1) brilliant and 2) able to produce
prodigious amounts of publishable work. I was neither. But dammit, I
wanted to write and I wanted to teach.

So I diversified.

When I was accepted to my program, I didn’t restrict myself to
creative writing courses. Half my load was Rhetoric & Composition,
with a sprinkling of theory courses. My plan was to pitch myself as
the Swiss Army Knife of teachers, able to teach any kind of writing.

The semester I started my MFA, my program founded its literary
journal, Natural Bridge. I pitched myself as the perfect person to
manage the journal, drawing on my project supervision background and
five years of publishing a small online journal (Poetry Ink, which
later morphed into Poetry Midwest). I was hired as the first Managing
Editor when I demoed a submission tracking database I clobbered
together in Microsoft Access. This turned into an hourly paid position
during my time in the program.

Yes, I TA’ed for a semester (funding was cut for further TA support)
and found I loved teaching Composition. But I also started networking.
One of my fellow students managed the campus Writing Center and
brought me in as a tutor. I found I liked helping beginning writers
with their writing problems.

Another student in the program ran the Writing Center at a local urban
community college and she hired me as an adjunct instructor. I
discovered that community college students are sometimes brighter and
more driven than their university counterparts.

Another student owned an ACT/SAT prep consultancy and she hired me as
a tutor. I found out I loved working one-on-one with students and that
standardized tests are no true measure of a person’s intelligence and

I took courses with Mary Troy and Howard Schwartz and Donald Finkel
and Steven Schreiner and learned how to be a compassionate but
demanding instructor.

Also: I pissed off Richard Howard (he YELLED at me!) at a translation
symposium that our program sponsored, and found I liked being a

In workshops, I learned to tear work apart and point out what was
wrong. In my classes and in tutoring sessions and in my mentoring
sessions with my professors, I learned to foster the risky impulse to
create and share.

And I wrote, of course. Oh god did I write. And submitted to journals.
And applied for jobs. I decided that if I was ever going to get a
teaching position with any security, it would be at a small school or
a community college. The semester before I graduated, I sent out over
300 job application packets. My mailing budget was sometimes equal to
our food budget.

And I had a stack of “thank you for applying but ick, no” rejection
letters, from both journals and human resources departments.

So I adjuncted at two community colleges, worked in writing centers,
and kept doing ACT/SAT prep. And kept applying to jobs.

And eventually I was a hired on a full-time temporary basis at a small
southern state school and two years later landed my current position,
where I have been for almost 15 years. Rumor has it my application
packet was pulled from the reject pile after the hiring committee was
dissatisfied with their initial round of interviews. I am told they
regret the decision, but it is too late now; I recently made full

Of course, this is not to say I didn’t have obvious advantages. I am a
cisgendered white male and benefit from all the trappings of privilege
that comes with this social identity. I was able to get through my
program without taking out student loans because my life partner
supported us working full-time during the day while I stayed home with
the kids and attended classes and worked at night. I was technically
an employee of the university and qualified for a slight tuition
remission. We also had a modicum of support from my father-in-law, who
didn’t want to see his grandchildren starve. So no, I didn’t go it
alone. I had a strong social network of support.

And I truly love teaching at a community college. Yes, I teach
primarily composition and read a lot of truly terrible writing and I
am overloaded with committee work. But I get to be the first college
writing teacher for most of my students, and that is an awesome
responsibility. I have 16-year-old homeschooled kids sitting next to
laid-off welders seeking job training sitting next to sixty-year-old
grandmothers going back to school sitting next to recent immigrants
from Sudan sitting next to single mothers from the inner city sitting
next to rich white kids from one of the wealthiest counties in the
nation and I get to show them the basic, basic ropes of academic
writing. It is hard. But it is so worthwhile.

And yes, I teach creative writing. And technical writing. And my
favorite class, writing for video games (who would have thought that
all those hours playing Legend of Zelda and DMing D&D would have laid
the foundation for teaching non-linear interactive narratives?).

And yes, I still find time to write and to publish (albeit not in
areas generally considered “literary” in any regard).

And this would not have been possible if all I did during graduate
school was singularly focus on my craft.

I tell you all this because it IS possible to get an MFA and secure a
teaching job. You have to make the most of your time in your program
not to just write, but to make connections. Not publishing
connections, but job connections. You have to work your ass off to
learn not just to write, but to teach and nurture and respond. If you
choose to pursue an MFA, begin laying the groundwork for what comes
after the MFA even before you take your first workshop. Become a Swiss
Army Knife, and your blades will never be dull.

Matthew Schmeer is a Professor of English at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. He received his MFA in Poetry from the University of Missouri at St. Louis in 2001. He rarely posts at and posts roleplaying game material at He still hasn’t published a book.


Truth or Art? “We Want Both!”

July 29, 2016 § 5 Comments


Ned Stuckey-French

We’ve struggled through the morning trying to come up with a concise summation of Ned Stuckey-French’s discussion of John D’Agata’s latest anthology, The Making of the American Essay, but the truth is that Stuckey-French’s analysis can’t be reduced to a few sentences. He challenges D’Agata’s ideas on the essay and on nonfiction generally, while at the same time giving D’Agata his due for being a provocative thinker and graceful writer. He focuses on the Graywolf anthology trilogy and D’Agata’s outlier theory, but at the same time provides a clear and succinct historical overview of the genre. And he does so with serious thought and consideration, and with wit.

Still and all, we have to give a taste, if only to convince you to click through and read this in its entirety. Here is Stuckey-French on D’Agata’s controversial assertion that facts can and should be be fudged in the literary essay:


The real bogeyman is facts (a.k.a. Truth, or Reality). Here D’Agata’s false either/or, in which facts are pitted against art, raises its ugly head again. “Facts for the sake of facts” is replaced by art for art’s sake. Why must we choose? Like Pooh, when Rabbit asked, “Honey or condensed milk with your bread?” one wants to shout, “Both!”

The full review essay is up at the Los Angeles Review of Books, and it is so worth the reading.

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