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: So I came in through humorists, and now, through the program, much more traditional nonfiction essayists. It was a couple years before I read Montaigne or some of the older ones, but it was definitely through Ian Frazier, yourself, Ander Monson, and such. I didn’t have a really wide base, but I really liked certain essayists that I found in Best American Essays, all living essayists.But once I started in classes—I did a master’s degree at BYU and then a Ph. at Ohio—I started to read some of the older stuff, especially with The Art of the Personal Essay, and then I took classes from David Lazar, and we read tons and tons of these essayists.: That’s something that I really enjoy about your writing.
With that said, as you mentioned, you do have narrative elements from your life in most of these essays, if not all of them.
I’m curious, when you’re approaching a new essay is it a thematic idea first that you then scaffold and attach the narrative to, or do you begin with the narrative? For instance, the essay “Entering and Breaking,” which is about my sons going missing for a couple of hours, that was certainly driven by an event that I wanted to write about.
I think I would definitely fit on the revivalist side.
It’s not just me, but the authors who are trying to be a little bit anachronistic in terms of phrasings, from the sentence level to the essay level.
But I didn’t want to just write the “what happened.” I wanted to think from it. I feel that your work definitely has a strong foothold in a very classical tradition of essaying, and this book is a stark contrast to other essay collections being published recently.
So I tried to do that and I overlaid some ideas from physics like wave/particle duality and quantum entanglement. For instance, “Of Cripples” doesn’t mention cripples until about nine-tenths of the way in. So it could be a little bit frustrating, but once you get used to it and expect it, then it’s really pleasing. Yours seem very classical in form as well as content.A lot of contemporary essayists are leaping off of the work in The Next American Essay.But I feel that yours would fit very much in The Lost Origins of the Essay.You don’t even have to read my essays to notice this; you can just flip open the book and it looks different from what many other writers are doing, because you just see the block quotes throughout. I get invited to universities or conferences I think in large part because I’m doing something slightly different from a lot of others and people trust that I have, in addition to my own writing, a kind of historical and theoretical knowledge that I can teach from or speak from when I’m talking to students or other writers. I imagine a lot of people who might be reading this interview may have not read the book yet. : Well, first of all, it’s always difficult for me to describe what my books are. This is a gigantic gathering and all sorts of writers are there, from Terry Brooks, who did The Sword of Shannara, and Jared Diamond who did Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Maureen Corrigan, the book reviewer from NPR’s Fresh Air, and there were a lot of mystery writers.So I wanted to give you the opportunity to give a condensed version of your “not official/official” introduction to the book. Anyway, over 100,000 people came through, and there I was. Other essayists or people who are aware of creative nonfiction can get what I’m doing and they can decide whether they want to read it or not, but for the general audience, I find it very difficult to describe.I like a lot of essayists who aren’t pulling in quotes from the great dead authors, but I think they are still consciously participating in the long tradition, and they know somewhat of the past.It always feels good to me when an author acknowledges where we all come from and the debt we owe, to Montaigne especially, but to the others as well.I come to the essay wanting to have an intellectual experience as well as an aesthetic or emotional experience.If you read these old essayists, that’s what they’re all about.The essays seem to be a bridge of sorts between classical thought and art and contemporary life.So I’m curious as to where this interest and focus on classical humanities came from.