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Blurring the Boundaries

Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction

B.J. Hollars

Publication Year: 2013

Contemporary discussions on nonfiction are often riddled with questions about the boundaries between truth and memory, honesty and artifice, facts and lies.  Just how much truth is in nonfiction?  How much is a lie? Blurring the Boundaries sets out to answer such questions while simultaneously exploring the limits of the form.

 This collection features twenty genre-bending essays from today’s most renowned teachers and writers—including original work from Michael Martone, Marcia Aldrich, Dinty W. Moore, Lia Purpura, and Robin Hemley, among others. These essays experiment with structure, style, and subject matter, and each is accompanied by the writer’s personal reflection on the work itself, illuminating his or her struggles along the way. As these innovative writers stretch the limits of genre, they take us with them, offering readers a front-row seat to an ever-evolving form.

Readers also receive a practical approach to craft thanks to the unique writing exercises provided by the writers themselves. Part groundbreaking nonfiction collection, part writing reference, Blurring the Boundaries serves as the ideal book for literary lovers and practitioners of the craft. 

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book would not have been possible without the support of a number of editors, agents, and permissions folks, including Kristen Rowley, Jodi Hammerwold, Matt McGowan, and Frederick T. Courtright. Likewise, I am indebted to many presses as well, first and foremost the University of Nebraska Press for allowing me the opportunity to piece this project together,...

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B.J. Hollars

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pp. 1-6

This is a story I’ve been told for most of my life. In the spring of 1964 my grandfather drove his wife and three children to the top of the Alps until they could drive no farther. Without warning, the road suddenly narrowed, steepened; finding himself trapped in a particularly...

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Marcia Aldrich

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pp. 17-23

Some think of trouble as difficulty, as something to be overcome. Examples: I’m having some trouble untying this knot. I’m experiencing some trouble getting into my kayak...

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Monica Berlin

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pp. 24-33

The morning after they find out something is wrong, the house fills up with strangers. It’s just bad timing, really, that they’d scheduled all the maintenance and repairmen to come on the same Wednesday — after all, why not get everything taken care of at once — but when the doorbell starts ringing just after eight...

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Eula Biss

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pp. 34-43

“Of what use is such an invention?” the New York World asked shortly after Alexander Graham Bell first demonstrated his telephone in 1876. The world was not waiting for the telephone. Bell’s financial backers asked him not to work on his new invention because it seemed too dubious an investment. The idea on which the telephone depended —...

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Ryan Boudinot

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pp. 44-53

Part ı: My Favorite Band in Seventh Grade I became a fan of Mötley Crüe around their album Shout at the Devil. Check out those fellows on the cover, sporting their sadomasochisminspired duds! Between the albums Shout at the Devil and Theatre of Pain, the Crüe changed their wardrobe, glamming it up in spandex and polka dots. I preferred...

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Ashley Butler

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pp. 54-59

In 1893 American engineer Simon Lake designed an omniscope for his Protector. Relying on eight prisms, his invention allowed the submariner a 360-degree view of the surface. But while the scope provided an upright image of the view off the bow, views off port and starboard appeared sideways, and the rear....

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Steven Church

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pp. 60-71

Aunt Judy, your first question might have been: What did the man on the radio say? Did he say tornado “emergency”? You’re not even sure what that means. Perhaps the radios vibrated with the dial-tone hum of warning. The tv too, its signal coming in at a slightly higher pitch, noise warbling between devices, coupled...

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Stuart Dybek

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pp. 72-78

Despite the shadowy shaft of light, clouded even on the brightest days, visibility was good. You could peer fathoms down to a bottom where the contours of broken flowerpots and fogged bottles took shape amidst a cobble of trash. Spongy knobs of moss bordered the foundation, and in the corners you could see silty webs, but...

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Beth Ann Fennelly

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pp. 79-96

It hatches from an egg the size of a Le Sueur English pea, weighing one-fiftieth of an ounce. Even fully grown, they’re so light that you could send eight of them for the price of a first-class stamp. But the fact that they are small and beautiful (Audubon called them “glittering garments of the...

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Robin Hemley

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pp. 97-104

An old woman waits in her car at the deserted Coshocton county fairgrounds on this unseasonably warm January day. She’s no one I know, no one important to this story, but I can’t help noticing her and wondering what she’s waiting for. I’m sure it’s something completely mundane, but in my imagination I turn her into Lonnie Cosmar, who doesn’t even live in Coshocton...

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Naomi Kimbell

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pp. 105-119

Insubstantial phenomena are well-documented and culturally universal occurrences (Bisher 1972, Cayce 1967, Langley 1972, Moody 1987, Yarbro 1986). But the sciences have yet to acknowledge the verifiable, though often nonreplicable, experiences of individuals and groups who have witnessed seemingly inexplicable, insubstantial events.1 This denial of insubstantial realities...So much depends upon how you might first touch my hand, not by accident, but with hunger and purpose, as if you were staking a claim, as if such desire might be slaked...

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Kim Dana Kupperman

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pp. 120-134

So much depends upon how you might first touch my hand, not by accident, but with hunger and purpose, as if you were staking a claim, as if such desire might be slaked...

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Paul Maliszewski

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pp. 135-147

Pain, behind my eye. It’s a kind of pushing, this pain, like something impossible is being insisted upon, some crude point in a long-running argument. This is my left eye. The headache starts at the back of my head, somewhere toward the top, the part that sticks out a bit...

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Michael Martone

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pp. 148-164

You want to be a writer but find yourself repeatedly stumped by the difference between fact and fiction? Well hey, Buster, who wouldn’t be? Fact and fiction both begin with the letter f, after all, and they share a c and a t. Confusing stuff ! Moreover, knowing the difference between what really happened to you a few years back and what you imagined only yesterday is a daunting challenge. I mean, do they...

Ander Monson

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pp. 165-185

Dinty W. Moore

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pp. 186-197

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Susan Neville

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pp. 198-210

When the man in Room Seven goes to see his doctor, he always wears a baseball cap and jacket. He’s in here to get the results of the mri. The X-ray shows compression in the spine, a slight fracture. That might radiate to the left hip, his doctor said, his mind already moving down the hall to his next patient. Does the pain seem to radiate? No, the man answers...

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Brian Oliu

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pp. 209-212

In your first life, you were foolish — running where you shouldn’t be running, crashing into trees, touching everything you saw. In your next life, you were more cautious — ducking when things were thrown your way, jumping over crevasses. In your next life, the sky started to fall in — talons of birds you have never seen in any of your lives. In the lives after that you began to...

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Lia Purpura

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pp. 213-216

Today, in her front yard, my neighbor found a baby squirrel that had fallen out of its nest. Her five-year-old daughter showed it to me, sleeping in a cigar box, and said they were taking it to a wildlife rescue center out in the country. They were going to make a day of it, and go for lunch and take a nice walk. I remembered, then, the nest of baby mice we found when I was pregnant...

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Wendy Rawlings

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pp. 217-227

According to The Guinness Book of World Records, General Hospital is the longest-running soap opera currently in production, having aired more than twelve thousand episodes. Let’s just write that out numerically: 12,000 (!!!). On soap operas, as opposed to, say, sitcoms, characters acquire long and deep and complex histories...

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Ryan Van Meter

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pp. 228-229

The first room was a graveyard. A wrought iron fence stood black and brittle in front of a sagging tomb, a few slanting graves and a knucklebone tree naked of its leaves. The ground beneath the tree wasn’t real ground — neither grass nor worn-down dirt — but black and shiny garbage bags stretched out flat. Regardless, I believed it was a graveyard, never mind that I was in a school...

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Writing Exercises

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pp. 247-258

Make a list of ten words (the number is arbitrary — it could be fourteen or twenty) that play a defining role in your life. Go through the list and pick the one that compels you the most, even if you don’t understand entirely why. In fact, it would be better if there is some mystery as to why this word draws you. (All...


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pp. 259-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780803245808
E-ISBN-10: 0803245807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803236486

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • American prose literature -- 21st century.
  • Creative nonfiction.
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