Steven Church on Convergences of Thought and John D’Agata

March 3, 2010 § 4 Comments

Our guest blogger Steven Church is author of the excellent new (and genre-bending) memoir The Day After the Day After: My Atomic Angst, and we are grateful for the permission to air his views on the D’Agata book and the recent criticism:

In his new book, About a Mountain, John D’Agata refers to the “confluence” of a Senate vote on Yucca Mountain and Levi’s suicide. NY times critic Charles Bock takes umbrage with D’Agata’s admission in the footnote that these events were separated by 3 days. Oddly enough in my readings and discussions with students, and with D’Agata himself, NOBODY mentioned this as important, much less what Bock calls the “heart of a crucial section.” That doesn’t mean that this isn’t an important question, but it may suggest that the power of the book does not in any way turn on this confluence as fact.

As a reader, I didn’t notice or care about this supposed violation, mainly because the book is clearly not one of factual convergences but one that uses juxtaposition to create (sometimes intentionally abrupt and harsh) convergences of thought on the page. Everything in the book happens simultaneously, reflecting (I believe) D’Agata’s consciousness on these subjects. The problem, perhaps with any endnote, footnote, author’s note or other form of contractual disclaimer is that it not only serves as a kind of apology for the art of the form, but it releases the reader from the responsibility of engaging with the text on its own terms. It removes the text from the realm of consciousness and puts it into the realm of verifiable fact. In his review of the book, LA Times critic David Ulin also mentions D’Agata’s endnotes, quoting them in his opening, and raises the specter of conflated time and composite characters before he essentially says that none of that stuff really matters in the end because the book is well-written, honest in it’s intentions, and not fundamentally a time-centered, character-driven text.

All that being said . . . D’Agata could have just written, “There is no explanation for the confluence that night of the Senate vote on Yucca Mountain and the death, three days later, of a boy who jumped from the tower of the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino.” . . . right? That doesn’t seem too syntactically clunky to me, AND it clears up any possible confusion.

I think, perhaps that D’Agata also sets himself up for some of this factual interrogation from reviewers and readers with his choice the form (chapters separated into Who, What, When, Where, How, Why) and the methodology (interview-based), even if it’s not necessarily what I would call a “journalistic” book (or a “memoir” for that, matter). Honestly, I think it’s a shame that the reading and appreciation of a good book, an important book, gets derailed by focus on an endnote or author’s note, a formal convention that often amounts to an apology for the art of a genre.

On D’Agata, Conflation, Facebook, and the Health Benefits of Open Discussion

March 3, 2010 § 5 Comments

Our post yesterday about John D’Agata’s book, and the New York Times review, generated almost no discussion on this blog.  Okay, we’re down with that.

But blog posts that appear here, through the elvin magic of the internet, show up automatically on Dinty W. Moore’s Facebook page — that’s the editor guy — and on Facebook, there are 36 comments and counting, from such nonfiction heavyweights as Judith Kitchen, Judith Barrington,  Jennifer Finney Boylan, Patrick Madden, and … well, a host of fascinating writers and reader of the genre.

You are invited to lurk, or offer your opinions as well:

Meanwhile, we have asked Steven Church to post something to this blog, since his view is not the view we espoused yesterday, nor is it the view taken by the New York Times, and you know what?


We like discussion, and disagreement.  It is a healthy thing.

So watch for Church’s comments in just a few moments, and if you’d like to be a guest blogger, on this issue or another issue, just let us know at

Brevity Editor Dinty W. Moore Workshopping in Mexico, Summer 2009

October 15, 2008 § Leave a comment

Details below, from the folks at the University of New Orleans Low-Residency Program:

Announcing the second annual Writing Workshops in San Miguel

Join us this summer in lovely San Miguel de Allende for an unforgettable month of writing and community. We’re very excited about our newest program and plan to make this year even better than last! Faculty and Guests will include:

Joseph and Amanda Boyden, Andrei Codrescu, Alex Espinoza, Dinty W. Moore, Steven Church, Bill Lavender, Jim Grimsley, Hank Lazer, Michael Winter, and many more

San Miguel is located in the mountains north of Mexico City. The high elevation keeps the summer months cool. It is close enough to Mexico City for weekend visits, and even closer to such historic locations as Dolores Hidalgo, Querétero, and historic Guanajuato, famous for its mummies, silver mines, and as the birthplace of Diego Rivera.   The program will provide excursions to nearby historic sites, and participants are also welcome to travel on their own on weekends.

Application for The Writing Workshops in San Miguel de Allende is now open.  The priority deadline to sign up is January 15, 2009. Some new courses we are offering, or hope to offer, this summer include: A Literary Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop in Fiction, Playwriting, and Screenwriting; A Food & Literature Class, which will feature many exciting readings, and food related excursions;A Chicano Literature Course; A Documentary Production Course; TWO CREATIVE NON-FICTION workshops, with Dinty W. Moore and Steven Church

For more details see

And for scholarship opportunities:

Questions?  CONTACT :

Jennifer Stewart

Study Abroad Programs in Writing
Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing
University of New Orleans
New Orleans, LA 70148


Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with steven church at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

%d bloggers like this: