If there is such a thing as a “traditional” nonfiction author, Maggie Nelson is something else. In her bio, Nelson’s work is described as “defying categorization.” A blurb for her book, The Argonauts, calls it “a loose yet intricate tapestry of memoir, art criticism, and gentle polemic.” Her writing is nonfiction, but not in the style of blockbusters like Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm or Augusten Burroughs’ Running with Scissors. Nelson is far more experimental, and one could argue that the experiment has been a success: The Argonauts was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Nelson herself was named a McArthur “Genius” Fellow.
“Every year we try to invite someone whose work is lyrical at its heart,” says Elizabeth Rush, lead organizer of the Nonfiction@Brown lecture series. Each year, the series showcases three authors throughout the fall, and Nelson is the second to present, on November 2. “Often, creative writing series tend to feature very established speakers who create these pantheons. We’re hoping to bring together a group of speakers who push genre boundaries, and we want to help support writers at all different stages of their career. Any writer worth their salt will tell you that writing is an ecosystem, and you have to participate in it.”
Twelve years have passed since the first Nonfiction@Brown, but the series faced the usual COVID complications: the 2020 edition was canceled, and events in 2021 were held in a hybrid format. For the first time in three years, Nonfiction@Brown will take place live and in person – and as always, the event is free and open to the public. All lectures will be recorded and made available on the Nonfiction@Brown website.
Lecture series are everywhere, especially at major universities, but the hallmark of Nonfiction@Brown is its diversity: the authors’ demographics are diverse, and so are their topics and writerly flourishes. Diana Khoi Nguyen, who read last month, is best described as a poet and multimedia artist. Nguyen’s style is lyrical and scrapbook-like; her book, Ghost Of, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
In stark contrast, Liza Yaeger, who will present on December 7, hasn’t written any books at all; she works as an audio producer. Yaeger, a Brown alumna, has contributed to such widely recognized media outlets as New York Magazine (or its podcast, anyway), NPR’s series Planet Money, and the human behavior series Invisibilia. While many English departments tend to focus on the written word, Nonfiction@Brown welcomes other media as well.
“We also always try to have someone who works in radio, as a journalist or producer,” says Rush. “So many jobs in nonfiction are in the radio world these days, and so many of the best stories are being written in this form.”
While most of the attendees have always been students or professors affiliated with Brown, Rush hopes that the series will expand expectations for true, narrative writing outside of academia.
“Each of the writers we bring in are pushing forward the public conversation around what nonfiction is, who it reaches, and who writes it,” Rush says. “In short, we aim to bring in speakers that both the Providence community and our students will be excited to hear from.”
Learn more at English.Brown.edu
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