Must-See Exhibit at NAU: “Aphasia: Neurological Disorder in Text and Image”

by Stacy Murison

Must-See Exhibit:  “Aphasia: Neurological Disorder in Text and Image”

Jane Armstrong and Christopher Kane Taylor

NAU’s Riles Building, 2nd Floor.  8am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday

When words fail, we have several choices.  Have several stock phrases available for quick recall.  Cultivate the art of listening.  Stay at home.  But what if you are a writer?  Jane Armstrong explores words, the lack of words, and the mis-remembered words (obstensibly rather than ostensibly) through a series of micro-essays that often begin with a memory or a slice of humor, but then cut deeply as she explores her everyday life with Aphasia.  Christopher Kane Taylor’s accompanying text-based paintings bring dimension to the many-layered textures of words and the darkness and jumble of an Aphasiatic brain.

Armstrong is a creative writing professor at Northern Arizona University.  She is also chair for the NonfictioNow panel, “Weird Places and Particular Spaces” Saturday, October 31 at 2:30 pm.

If you are interested in walking through the exhibit with Jane, you may reach her at jane.armstrong@nau.edu

Must-See Exhibit at NAU: “Aphasia: Neurological Disorder in Text and Image”

A Nonfiction Rant

by Natalie Rose

“We can only try to represent girlhood in ways that are varied and recognizable.”

– Roxane Gay

I love reading fiction, but when I’m asked to write it, my stomach folds over on itself and crunches like a potato chip. But I’m in graduate school now, so let’s try writing fiction, I think. I’m taking a whole class dedicated to writing fiction.

I don’t like writing fiction.

I write nonfiction because I find few true depictions of American brown women that I can relate to. There is a sprinkling of fiction and nonfiction accounts from talented authors, but access and exposure to well-marketed texts detailing the lives of the largest minority group in the United States, my home, is mostly arid landscape.

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The first time I saw myself in mainstream media was Josefina Lopez’s play-turned-film Real Women Have Curves. Ana, played by then-unknown America Ferrera, is a Mexican-American teen living in East Los Angeles. Ana’s mother and sister want her to skip college and join the ranks at the family’s textile factory. Ana, though devoted to her family, wants more, so she goes behind her mother’s back and applies to Columbia University. During summer days, Ana dutifully sweats away with her mom and sister at the factory. During summer nights, Ana explores her sexuality, learns about intimacy with her goofy, white-guy boyfriend and grows more comfortable with her generous curves. At one point, she strips down naked in the factory to combat the stifling heat, and coaxes her mother and sister to do the same.

In 2002, when the film came out, I was a Mexican-American girl with generous curves leaving her family for the first time, heading to New York for college. I was leaving behind a goofy, white-guy boyfriend. I too felt conflicted about leaving behind my tight-knit family. Seeing America’s Ana was like seeing my reflection mirrored back at me. America / Ana reached through the mirror, grabbed my shoulders and shook as hard as she could. “This is what it’s like to see yourself,” said imaginary America / Ana, “This is you.”

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I am having dinner with my new boyfriend, now fiancé, and his uncle at a Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale. This woman in the corner keeps looking at me. She’s in her mid-fifties, but the skin of her face is pulled tight over her bones, and this is Scottsdale, so I can’t tell her real age. She’s blond, and she wears lots of Home Shopping Network-looking jewelry. She comes over.

“I think you’re beautiful,” she says, “What’s your nationality?”

“American.”

“You know what I mean,” she says, as if I’m being silly, “Where are you from? Where are your mother and father from?”

“The United States,” I try to hide my irritation. Stretch face pouts. “Are you asking what my ethnic background is,” I offer.

“Oh yes, that thing!”

Yes. That thing.

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From The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality, by Tracey E. Ore:

Ethnicity (n): having cultural traits such as language, religion, family customs, and food preferences

Nationality (n): national status; specifically:  a legal relationship involving allegiance on the part of an individual and usually protection on the part of the state

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I am American. My mother’s family is from Mexico. My mother’s father was first generation American, the only one of his siblings to be born in the U.S. My mother’s mother’s family has lived in Tucson since Arizona was Mexico. I am also half Lebanese. I am third generation on my Lebanese side. Both of my parents were born in the United States. We are American.

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This is the part where I tell you a poignant story from my childhood. My fiancé says it’s too personal, so I will summarize. My family was rich, and then, very quickly, we were poor. My mom and I lived alone together after the divorce. My mom made a secretary’s salary, and we struggled. She worked until six o’clock every night, so I came home, did my homework, and made us dinner.

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Sometimes I have malicious thoughts about Dora the Explorer. I did not grow up with Dora, but we share similarities. She, like me, is a latchkey kid. She, like me, had a terrible bowl haircut as a child. She, like me, was brought up identifying as Mexican-American, but she does not speak with an accent. She only knows a handful of words, but then again, I only know a few Spanish words. Differences between Dora’s inherent identity and mine are few, but one is paramount – I am not representation to millions of Americans what a whole minority sub-culture in the U.S. is about, and Dora is.

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The New York Times puts out a list every week of the 20 top selling nonfiction books. Of those books, 16 are written by men. 5 are written by women. I am counting one book’s author, or authors, twice – Exceptional, by Dick Cheney and Liz Cheney. (The description reads, “The Former Vice President and his daughter chart their vision for a formidable future in America.”) 16 authors are of Caucasian descent. Four authors are of color. The only Hispanic author is listed as a contributor to a book written by a white author about women UFC fighting.

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Bad Feminist is a book of essays by Roxane Gay detailing her reactions to everyday happenings and pop culture news, from Scrabble tournaments to HBO’s series Girls to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines to Paula Deen slinging the N-word. Her arguments are strong like liquor – you feel them going down.

Reading Gay’s Bad Feminist was the first time I’d read a piece of nonfiction and thought, “This feels like me.” When the book came in the mail, I sat on the couch in my studio apartment in Los Angeles and swallowed it whole.

In her essay Girls, Girls, Girls, Gay talks about the lack of diversity in American depictions of girlhood. Gay narrows in on Lena Dunham’s new show on HBO, Girls, and takes issue with the entertainment industry and mainstream America who act as if the show is a catch-all for the modern girl experience. She writes, “While critics, in the lavish attention, have said [Lena Dunham’s show HBO Girls] is speaking to an entire general of girls, there are may of us who recognize that the show is only speaking to a narrow demographic within an generation.” She then offers an alternative to Dunham’s girlhood in New York City, a girlhood where the protagonist (Gay) runs off to Arizona to work as a sex line operator with coke and heroin-laced cohorts with names like ‘Bubbles’. Gay’s point is that girlhood is too individual a thing, as individual as a fingerprint, to be represented by one show, by one social group, by one race.

The book debuted at #13 on the New York Times bestseller’s list.

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I write about food and memory because that is how I’ve been taught to connect with my backgrounds. When my Mexican and Lebanese families come together, we all cook. My Nana Cleo tells me stories of her girlhood living in Chandler, the daughter of a surly ranchero, and how desperately she wanted to run away from my Tata Henry and join the rodeo. Over red chile, my Dad tells me of how my ancestors came to Arizona because it looked like where they came from in Lebanon, a mining town called Baskinta. He tells me they immediately found work in the mines. Tamales and Ellis Island and tabbouli and 100-year-old-graves in Tucson decorated with Mexican sugar skulls and streamers are my heritage. I eat so I can truly listen, I listen so I can truly feed myself, so I can satisfy an urge to find a place for myself in this world.

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Sometimes I write about my own memories from growing up. This is difficult for me. What is a memory? Is it truth? Yes. Is it the whole truth? No. Lines are blurred.

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This is the part where I tell you a poignant story from my childhood. My fiancé says it’s too personal, so I will summarize. I have uncomfortable memories from childhood, memories of loss and abandonment and incidents with the law. While my mom, dad and brother were always with me, I am the only one in my family who remembers some of these events. My mom does not remember the cops showing up. My dad does not remember being so drunk. My brother doesn’t remember much of anything. Did I make things up? How can I write ‘nonfiction’ if the events I write about cannot be corroborated by the three other people present at the time? What do I write?

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I write (mostly) nonfiction not because I am tired of reading about the Caucasian experience. I write nonfiction because I am just as interested in blowing open the landscape of the American experience as I am with keeping my familial story stoked in the fire. I choose to believe in a country, in a world, where we fight ignorance with experiences and racism with inclusion. Only with more voices – fiction, nonfiction, poetry, performances, music, interpretations, films, forums – can barriers be broken. Only with more voices can the “other” become “one another.”

A Nonfiction Rant

Get to Know our Book Fair Stallholders

As part of the NonfictioNOW conference, we’re holding a book fair, where 21 of our favourite nonfiction publications and presses will hold stalls. From 9-5 every day of the conference (October 29-31), it’ll be books galore in the large exhibition hallway in the front of our venue.

Below are the names of our fabulous stallholders, along with links to their websites, so you can learn a bit more about them before the conference:

Creative Nonfiction / In Fact Books

DIAGRAM & New Michigan Press

– The Essay Genome Project

Fourth Genre

The Georgia Review

Hotel Amerika

Milkweed Editions

New Ohio Review, Ohio University

The Normal School

Ovenbird Books

Passages North

Sarabande Books

Slag Glass City

Superstition Review

Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built + Natural Environments

Torrey House Press

Under the Gum Tree

Under the Sun

Vermont College of Fine Arts

Witness Magazine and Black Mountain Institute at UNLV

Zone 3 Press

Get to Know our Book Fair Stallholders

5 Questions: An Interview with Peter Turchi

by Barbara Lane

peter_turchi

Photo: Peter Turchi
Source: http://www.peterturchi.com

Peter Turchi will be among our excellent panelists at NonfictioNOW 2015. Turchi is the author of multiple works of fiction and nonfictionincluding New York Times bestselling A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery, and Magic and Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer. He directed the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson for 15 years, the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University for 5, and currently teaches at the University of Houston. Turc6hi has revived numerous awards, including fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, North Carolina’s Sir Walter Raleigh Award, an Illinois Arts Council Award, and Washington College’s Sophie Kerr Prize. We are honored to have him join us at NonfictioNOW and excited to attend his panel on Saturday afternoon, October 31. Joining him will be distinguished writers Tara Ison, David Stuart MacLean, Nancy Pearson, and Emily Rapp.

 

BL: Your panel at NonficitoNOW is intriguing: Finding the Story, Finding the Form. In your experience, how do story and form interact? Does one come before the other?

PT: The relationship between story and form varies depending on the work. I’m interested in the pressure form puts on content, and the way that formal choices can inspire or provide new opportunities. Sometimes a work’s form is perceptible only to the writer; in other cases the form is apparent or explicit, and so part of the communication with the reader. For example: Eula Biss’s essay “The Pain Scale” is divided into 11 sections number 0 – 10, just like the pain scale she’s discussing; that formal choice is immediately apparent to the reader and, at the very least, creates anticipation, even mild suspense (will the sections somehow increase in intensity? What will they build toward?). In another essay a writer might choose to ground a discussion in three personal anecdotes, each of which introduces a new operative metaphor. The reader would see the anecdotes and metaphors, but would have no reason to know that the reader chose to build the essay from them.

Of course, story itself has certain familiar movements, and even the beginning of a narrative(“One day…”) is charged with implication. But writers of prose don’t have the tradition of fully defined forms that poets have; we don’t have the sort of templates provided by the sonnet, the villanelle, the ghazal. We need to invent them for ourselves.

BL: I am currently reading Maps of the Imagination, so I am very curious: In the process of writing this particular book, how many false starts did the project take before you found its final form? 

PT: I don’t believe that anything in writing is “organic”—it’s all created—but Maps of the Imagination grew like a plant. My memory of writing the original essay that became the seed for the book is of sitting at my desk, surrounded by books, trying to articulate connections and metaphorical implications as quickly as they came to me. It was an ecstatic surge of ideas, one of those prolonged visitations by the muse that don’t come along very often. Then I was done. A year or so later Barbara Ras, my eventual editor, asked if I was interested in expanding it into a book, and I told her I wasn’t.

But I kept thinking of ideas that were connected to that essay, that I hadn’t fully explored; and I kept thinking of ways that the metaphor could be fruitfully developed. I can’t say the rest of the book came easily—one part in particular was a prolonged struggle—but the more I wrote, the more ideas came to mind. And at some point I realized I had said what I had to say on the subject. There could have been more close readings of stories, and there could have been more on all sorts of maps, but none of that felt necessary; the balance felt right.

So: there were no false starts to the book as a whole, though of course there was the usual pulling and pushing, tugging and revising that’s part of any longer project.

BL: Both A Muse and a Maze and Maps of the Imagination contain a wealth of images, creating a rich interplay between word and image. How much of this did you originally have in mind for the projects and how much came about as a result of revision and discovery?

PT: Most of the material in both books began as lectures I wrote and presented at residencies of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, which I directed for 15 years and still teach in as often as I can. Nearly all of those had some visual element—some had music—because I tend to think associatively and metaphorically, I enjoy a certain amount of indirection, and it’s nice to break up the blah blah blah of a lecture with other kinds of input. When I put together the manuscript of Maps of the Imagination I very carefully printed and cut out all of the images I wanted to use, taped them where I wanted them to appear in the manuscript, photocopied the result, and sent it to Barbara. If she were a normal editor she would’ve told me to get over any dream of including so many images; but the press had a good budget and she in fact likes to make beautiful books, so she ended up asking me to provide more images.

The issue, for some readers, concerned how I use images in that book. In some cases there’s a pretty explicit relationship between image and text: I refer to a certain kind of map, and there it is. But I wanted the reader to be engaged in the process of making connections, taking leaps; so some images appear without explanation, never referenced in the text. That annoys some people, but it pleases me, and there seem to be a good many other readers who don’t want every single connection spelled out.

I knew I wanted A Muse and A Maze to include a variety of puzzles, some of which I had made for the book; but it, too, contains images, some of which were crucial to my own understanding of some of the ideas I discuss. And again, Barbara asked me for more images than I initially delivered. In both cases, some of the images were part of the original lectures, and others were the result of my searching for a visual way to express a notion. I have been extraordinarily fortunate to publish these two books with Trinity University Press, and to have two wonderfully talented groups of designers attached to each book. DJ Stout of Pentagram designed Maps and ALSO designed A Muse, and both books won all sorts of design awards.

BL: What would you add to Maps of the Imagination now that you’ve had some time away from it?

PT: I’ve thought about that briefly from time to time. As I said, I could certainly provide more examples from writing, and analyze some of the texts more thoroughly, but I think the basic points I tried to make should be clear with what’s in the book now. There are other kinds of maps to discuss, including interactive maps and animated maps, and it might be fun to pursue those, metaphorically, to talk about some other possibilities for narrative. But I don’t feel the book has gaping holes; if I never get a chance to add to it, I’m happy to have it exist exactly as it does.

BL: What are you most looking forward to at NonficitoNOW?

PT: The things I don’t know enough to look forward to. I want to be surprised, I want to compile an enormous reading list of essays and books and multimedia nonfiction and writers I’ve never heard of, and I want to come away with new ideas for how to teach nonfiction writing. I feel confident the conference will deliver.

5 Questions: An Interview with Peter Turchi

Interview with Robin Hemley

By Enkhzul Badral

Robin Hemley Source: Yale-NUS College
Robin Hemley
Source: Yale-NUS College

Robin Hemley is currently the Director of the Writing Programme at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. Robin founded NonfictioNOW in 2005 after joining the University of Iowa as the Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program one year prior. Here he discusses the conference with student Enkhzul Badral.

EB: How did NonfictioNOW start?

RH: One of the things I was given as a startup package with my position at Iowa was a one-time conference in nonfiction. I worked with my colleagues to develop that and called in NonfictioNOW and held it at the University of Iowa in 2005. It was a big success and just by chance, we had a donor named Barbara Bedell who came at the right time and offered to help fund the conference. It became more than just a one-off, and I have been involved in ever conference ever since. This is our tenth anniversary but our fifth conference.

EB: How has NonfictioNOW grown since 2005?

RH: It has become more international for one thing. One of the things I wanted to do from the beginning is to expand the conversation beyond just one set of people or one cultural background. So we brought the conference to Melbourne last time and it was a big success and now we’re bringing it back to the United States. My idea is to hold it overseas somewhere every other year. I’m looking at Iceland and England right now. It feels like a more expansive conversation than when we started.

EB: What role do you currently play in the conference?

RH: I am one of the co-chairs. We have three co-chairs, and we are starting a board now as well. Our co-chairs are myself, Nicole walker of Northern Arizona university and David Carlin of RMIT in Melbourne. David and I were co-chairs at the last one in Melbourne. It’s always really important to have someone on the ground. It usually falls on the shoulders of the person who is ‘most there’ to do the major part of the organizing so this time it has definitely been Nicole. She has done an amazing job getting everything ready. She’s been fantastic, I’m sure she’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when it’s over.

We try to choose panels that aren’t duplicates of the ones we’ve had in the past, although some things keep cropping up. Things like memory, truth in nonfiction, family, memoir—these things are always trouble spots within the genre. These always crop up. But we don’t want everything to be the same from one conference to another—otherwise, why do it?

EB: What role does NonfictioNOW play in the writing world?

RH: I think it’s an important conference in the nonfiction world. It’s not a conference that the average person in the US or Australia has necessarily heard of, but among professionals, it’s an important literary conference. What it has done is created conversations that have gone on well beyond the conference, creating projects that maybe never would have happened otherwise.

A good example: There’s a filmmaker named Sasha Waters Freyer who used to teach at the University of Iowa. She had grown up in New York, and gone to a public school in Manhattan. Maybe in 5th or 4th grade, Phillip Lopate came to her school as a writer in a program in the 60s and 70s. He decided to put a Chekhov play on Broadway, Uncle Vanya, with only fifth graders in the roles. From this he wrote a wonderful essay, “Chekhov for Children”. He was a keynoter for our conference in 2005, and in the audience was Sasha Waters. When he gave his keynote, he and Sasha saw each other for the first time in 30 years. He revealed to her that they had made a film of the play, and she went back and decided to interview the students and get their impressions of what Phillip Lopate was like, and what they thought of the play. It’s a really good documentary, also called Chekhov for Children. This definitely would not have happened if not for NonfictioNOW.

EB: How do you choose the panels you attend at a conference?

RH: Well, there are many criteria [laughs]. I have many friends and students so often I attend those, but there are a lot of people I know on these panels and I can’t go to them all, so I tend to go to the panels that seem the most evocative. These are the ones that are not necessarily going over territory I’m familiar with. We try to make it difficult for people to decide [laughs]. I like to go to things that maybe have no relation to my work at all, but also things that I’m really intent on.

Interview with Robin Hemley

5 Places Not to Miss When You’re in Flagstaff for NonfictioNOW

by Barbara Lane

Get ready! NonfictioNOW will be here before you know it. Not only will you enjoy four days immersed in the vast literary landscape of nonfiction—with the likes of Roxane Gay, Brian Doyle, Maggie Nelson, and several other fantastic keynote speakers—but you’ll also be surrounded by the natural beauty of Northern Arizona and all the sights and sounds and tastes of Flagstaff.

If you’re ready to start planning your off-campus meals or you’re hoping to find a nice spot to read, write, or just let the awesomeness of NonfictioNOW sink in, we’ve got a map just for you. Enjoy an inside look at some of the local favorites! Among them you’ll find…

1. The Weatherford Hotel (the balcony in particular)

“As the sun sets, a single bat flits through the darkling sky. A group of ravens fly north. On this balcony, you can order a giant pile of nachos, you can sip a locally brewed craft beer or a PBR alone in a corner at that one-chair table; you can use your camera phone to take pictures that don’t do justice to the vibrant splatter of colorful hues in the sky, or you can accidentally drop the complimentary popcorn on passersby below.” Chelsey Burden.

2. Higher Grounds Coffee House 

“The majority of the patrons here are reading or working diligently on their computers, which is why I like it. My armchair has a matching couch that is less superior in terms of curling up, but equally matched in squishiness. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, and the furniture has been rearranged. They’ve added more fairy lights, and fixed the lanterns. The décor seems simple, standard, a little “hipster,” if you will. There are tables for getting work done to the slightly elevated right of the front door, and my armchair collection to the left. One of the nicest places to work, however, is the counter that lines the window facing the street.” Anonymous.

3. Pizzicletta 

“You realize it’s the first time you’ve been alone, but not lonely, in a while. The restaurant didn’t look like much from the outside, an old warehouse, really, but here you are, comfortably seated in a space that’s starting to feel a bit bigger. The juxtaposition of the night closing in around the tall warehouse many-paned windows against a comfortably warm space just makes you feel a little more at one with the world and the notebook you’re writing in, than you felt just twenty minutes ago. And your fragrant pizza has not even arrived yet. You smile, look around, and wonder how often you can come here to write, daydream, sit with strangers, and eat pizza.” Stacy Murison.

4. Vino Loco  

“First taste – The bar is cast copper. The wines range from 5 dollar red mixes to 20 Chardonnays. There are very few people here; the music is contemporary and quiet. There is no real vibe, perhaps because it is a Tuesday. However one has a hard time imagining there are any loud conversations, even after several glasses on a Friday.

Second Taste – Eventually the music and the heat and the wine dull your senses. The red brick blends with tan walls, and the bottles melt into a stained glass window. The aromas that once assaulted the nose with complexity wear off into a steady mix that is not entirely great but also does not offend, even the quiet conversations around fade into background noise. And Vino becomes pleasant, because the normal rift-raft of bars is non-existence. The longer one stays, the more noticeably nice Vino becomes.” Colin Chafin.

5. Bookman’s 

“There are the rows and rows of garish red-orange bookshelves. There’s the dedicated section for paranormal romance that I’ve not had the pleasure of frequenting. The collection of young adult literature is impressive—always in volume, sometimes in quality. The cafe takes a minimalist approach to its food offerings, but they have some locally-sourced baked goods and bagels from Biff’s. The chai is so sweet your teeth will sing. If you don’t want your teeth to sing, or if you’re in the mood for something more (or less) caffeinated, they do the whole latte thing and their tea selection is fantastic. The Madagascar Coconut white tea is a favorite—but it’s better iced than hot. Ask them to ice it. If the barista I  s a blond girl with dark-framed glasses, she’ll tell you they don’t sell it iced. Don’t listen to her. Look for the brown-haired girl with the soft smile. She’ll ice it for you. So will the one whose hair changes color every couple months (right now, it’s blond and hot pink).” Barbara Lane.

And that’s only the beginning. Check out our map for more about these places and many others. See you in two weeks!

5 Places Not to Miss When You’re in Flagstaff for NonfictioNOW