NonfictioNOW 2017, Reykjavik, Iceland

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.

The journey in literature is nothing new: from The Odyssey to poems by Wordsworth, narratives are often structured by journeys. Walking is a particular type of journey—one that demands engagement—through both body and mind—with one’s environment. A walker “reads” the world; she consumes the sights around her and produces thoughts, words, and new paths of navigation. And yet, the methods for exploring a walk and a walk’s potential on writer and reader now have new trans-genre and trans-medium practices. By speaking essays through audio tours and enacting stories through performance, contemporary writers are finding ways to reconsider the fluid state of story and space. Thispanel explores nonfiction as a spatial practice, from the experimental walking tour to dérive-inspired performance and political action. This panel of writers and scholars will discuss their work, and provide audience members with ideas towards teaching and creating their own ambulatory works.

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