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Toward a Theory of Nonfiction

Jill Talbot

Publication Year: 2012


Metawriting—the writing about writing or writing that calls attention to itself as writing—has been around since Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, but Jill Talbot makes that case that now more than ever the act of metawriting is performed on a daily basis by anyone with a Facebook profile, a Twitter account, or a webpage. Metawritings: Toward a Theory of Nonfiction is the first collection to combine metawriting in both fiction and nonfiction.
In this daring volume, metawriting refers to writing about writing, veracity in writing, the I of writing and, ultimately, the construction of writing. With a prologue by Pam Houston, the anthology of personal essays, short stories, and one film script excerpt also includes illuminating and engaging interviews with each contributor. Showcasing how writers perform a meta-awareness of self via the art of the story, the craft of the essay, the writings and interviews in this collection serve to create an engaging, provocative discussion of the fiction-versus-nonfiction debate, truth in writing, and how metawriting works (and when it doesn’t).
Metawritings provides a context for the presence of metawriting in contemporary literature within the framework of the digital age’s obsessively self-conscious modes of communication: status updates, Tweets, YouTube clips, and blogs (whose anonymity creates opportunities for outright deception) capture our meta-lives in 140 characters and video uploads, while we watch self-referential, self-conscious television (The Simpsons, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Office). Speaking to the moment and to the writing that is capturing it, Talbot addresses a significant and current conversation in contemporary writing and literature, the teaching of writing, and the craft of writing. It is a sharp, entertaining collection of two genres, enhanced by a conversation about how we write and how we live in and through our writing.
Sarah Blackman
Bernard Cooper
Cathy Day
Lena Dunham
Robin Hemley
Pam Houston
Kristen Iversen
David Lazar
E. J. Levy
Brenda Miller
Ander Monson
Brian Oliu
Jill Talbot
Ryan Van Meter


Published by: University of Iowa Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

I would like to thank Joseph Parsons, who indefatigably supported this project. I would also like to thank the contributors for their thoughtful submissions to this anthology and especially for their time and patience in the interview process. Thanks to Charles Blackstone for the interview angle and for always hitting “Reply.” Special thanks to the Spring 2010...

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Prologue: Corn Maze

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pp. ix-xx

When I was four years old my father lost his job. We were living in Trenton, New Jersey, at the time, where he had lived most of his life. With no college education, he had worked his way up to the position of controller at a Transamerica-owned manufacturing company called Delavalve. The company restructured itself and dismissed him. My parents decided...

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pp. xxi-xxix

In his introduction to Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Larry W. Phillips begins with this sentence: “Throughout Ernest Hemingway’s career as a writer, he maintained that it was bad luck to talk about writing.” The introduction is followed by thirteen chapters with titles such as “What Writing Is and Does,” “The Pain and Pleasure of Writing,” “What...

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I Was There

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pp. 1-11

My boyfriend stepped on the parking brake of the U-Haul, switched off the engine, and the weight of our stuff pushed from behind as we sat on the severe slope of Lyon Street, pointing down. All of us—boyfriend, dog, me—felt the relief of journey’s end, but just as quickly, as I unlatched my seatbelt, the gravity of our new place tugged hard. I realized I didn’t...

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Genesis; or the Day Adam Killed the Snakes

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pp. 13-20

Adam and Eve live in a farmhouse surrounded by apple orchards. One spring day, Adam pokes his head into Eve’s study. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Working,” she says. “Oh. I’m going to the attic to bring down the air conditioner,” Adam says. “Great,” Eve says into her computer screen. He waits. “I might need you.” “Uh-huh.” Her fingers fly across the keyboard. A few minutes later, he calls out. “Come here! I want to show you something.” ...

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The Facts of the Matter

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pp. 21-35

Here is how it happened: the door to the suite was open that night when I walked past and saw her splayed across a couch, one foot on the floor, one leg hooked over an arm rest. I was coming in from a party. Two AM, or three. The fabric of her skirt curled around her legs like smoke or like the drapery in Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa,” which I’d seen just the week before in Vincent Scully’s art history class. I stepped in...

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The Girl Is a Fiction

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pp. 37-45

Once a person has been a girl, it’s hard to write about the subject. The other day, as she walked the long hallway lined with etchings and lithographs, she saw a teenage boy lounging against the dais of the central atrium’s sculpture. She observed him from above and at high speed, often her condition when she is busy, has somewhere else to be, but even from that perspective she could tell many things from his haughty posture. ...

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On Dating

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pp. 47-59

Like many people my age, after a few forays into dating in high school, my social life became a kind of “falling into” with more and less significant others. I spent a lot of time in schools and academic settings, time in cities and college towns, and you were around people, and if you and they were available, you kissed in dark corners, or lived together for...

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The Dog at the Edge of the World

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pp. 61-67

I’ve been looking for one of my favorite Franz Marc paintings called The Dog at the End of the World. At least I think that’s what it’s called; I had the image on a postcard I gave away, and I’ve never been able to find it again—not on-line, not in an art shop, not in my book of Marc paintings. I gave away this card to a man I’d been dating only a short time. I gave it to him because he had an unruly dog he seemed to love despite...

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Facing the Monolith

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pp. 69-114

Did I forget to mention it? It’s submerged in every sentence, diphthong without which it’s hard to go for long (ask the Oulipo). It, a tic, a blip, the Goodyear blimp, an exclamation point without a dot, you can’t avoid it, those I ’s, somehow American, always thinking, being, wanting to find our way to something biggie-sized and tasty, always gerund, processing, grinding up an us into component bits of light, but at the bottom of...

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The Pickpocket Project

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pp. 115-137

It’s my first full day in Prague, and I desperately want to find someone to pickpocket me. I put my wallet in my back pocket, ride the elevator to the reception area of the Pyramida Hotel, and set off for Wenceslaus Square with my wallet sticking out ever so slightly from my back pocket. Can any pickpocket resist this? But there’s a problem. My wallet does not seem all that enticing, or all that visible. There isn’t much in the...

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Excerpts from Creative Nonfiction

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pp. 139-165

Creative Nonfiction is a tale of a female undergraduate working on a screenplay in hopes of being admitted into a screenwriting program, while struggling with dating and friendship issues in her college dorm. The fictional elements, the italicized portions narrated by Ella’s explanatory voice-over (v.o.), are juxtaposed with the nonfictional elements of...

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Winner Take Nothing

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pp. 167-185

I ran a couple of laps around the house, elated, not just because of the letter, but because I remembered seeing a hardback volume of The Snows of Kilimanjaro on the shelves in my father’s upstairs hall. Perhaps the book had belonged to one of my brothers, or was left behind by Esther. In any case, a novel by the award’s namesake was shelved right there in Dad’s very own home library, which would, as far as he was concerned...

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Adventure Island

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pp. 187-193

Darling, let me tell you about the time I created an island. The island was a volcano once, a place where there was nothing to say but nothing—I continued forward with my face looking up toward the spiders, but my eyes always on my feet. On the island I created, I can see through the sand to the layers of earth: a blanket on top of a blanket on...

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How to Be Tough in Creative Nonfiction

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pp. 195-207

When I was a child, we went on long Sunday drives in the mountains, which we hated with a passion. The four of us—my two sisters, my impish little brother, and I—rode morosely in the backseat of a lizardgreen station wagon with faux-wood paneling on the sides. My parents were from Scandinavian farm families in Iowa and Minnesota. Colorado was a mystery, a luxury, a tourist trifecta of high peaks, winding roads, and...


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pp. 209-211


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pp. 213


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pp. 215-217

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781609381059
Print-ISBN-13: 9781609380892

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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