From June 2-June 4, I attended the 2017 NonfictioNOW conference in Reykjavik. There were a lot of wonderful writers there, and it was difficult to choose between panel topics because there was always more than one interesting panel during each time slot. There seemed to be a particular focus on the complications of telling others’ stories in nonfiction, as on the panel titled Documenting Disaster and Its Aftermath: A Conversation about Creativity and Ethics, but this might reveal my own selection bias. I missed out on some talks about gathering and writing with oral histories, “New Narrators,” the archive, and the body, due to time conflicts. The keynotes were given by Karl Ove Knaussgard (who surprised me with his gentleness and charm), Aisha Sabbatini Sloan (a new writer for me whose work I am so excited to read), and Wayne Koestenbaum (whose work I have long admired–and he kept us laughing).
Iceland itself was delightful. I loved the midnight sun and found myself walking through the sunlit streets of Reykjavik after midnight. Icelanders were sipping drinks in their gardens, chatting and laughing, the gardens wonderfully overgrown with long grass and flowers, the sky glowing a soft pink. I had the chance to see a little of the Golden Circle (geysers, a tremendous waterfall, and the place where the North American plate meets the European plate, plumes of steam rising here and there from the earth, shaggy ponies nuzzling in the fields), and to hike Mount Esja, which overlooks Reykjavik. I also saw old friends and met a few new ones.
I presented on Ambulatory Nonfiction. My particular focus was on writing “off the page,” following a trajectory from Ulysses to Wordsworth to the British walking artists of the 1970s and 80s to contemporary street artists, and how this work inspires interventionist writing or writing that takes the form of performance. My fellow panelists (TaraShea Nesbit, Yanara Friedland, Michael Mejia, and Joe Lennon) are a smart and interesting bunch. I’m so glad I had the chance to learn from them and expand my thinking about walking literature. Below is our panel description.