Hey, wow! I’m the Big Moose!

I’m honored to share the news that my first novel, The Good Echo, has won the 2017 Black Lawrence Press Big Moose Prize and will be published in November 2018. To read an excerpt, or find out more about Black Lawrence Press, you can go here.

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.

Story Mapping as Augmented Reality

For some reason, I’ve never quite considered that story maps augment reality, but indeed, that’s what they do, especially if they geolocate their stories and we can read or hear the stories on the spot. Technology  provides one way for stories to intersect with our living, breathing presence in the world, overlaying or underlaying a street, or a tree, or spot on the sidewalk with a story that went down in that very spot–real or imagined, personal or public.

I’ve created such a story map with students at Earlham College (and earlier, at Cornell College), where the students imagined fictional stories on spots around campus, though some wrote poems or essays rather than fiction. One of my favorite pieces on the Earlham map imagines the whispers of emerald ash borers as they whittle away at their host trees, destroying them, then longing for them after the trees have been cut down and carted away. It’s part love story, part eco-lament, part essay on parasitic intimacy. For the next round of Earlham stories, I’d like to team up with a computer science professor or students, or a technology librarian, to develop a better interface, as the current Google map doesn’t open the stories on exact location (you scan the QR code on the spot, but the code opens the general map. The reader has to find the right pin to read the associated story.)

I have a piece of my own included on Mapping Salt Lake City, where the stories live on the website rather than augmenting reality with geolocated pins, but it’s certainly a story map, revealing the palimpsest of stories and experiences that exist around us in every space.

I’m thinking about all this today because I just read about Wikupedia, an augmented reality app developed by Adrian Duke, a member of the Muscowpetung Nation who lives in Vancouver. Wikupedia crowdsources the indigenous stories of Canada, geolocating them. The stories are told by an animated raven. I’m ready for a good long walk through a Canadian city, delightfully interrupted by these stories that aim, in part, to “foster reconciliation through storytelling.”

Here’s the article on Wikiupedia: “This Augmented Reality App Tells Indigenous Stories in Canadian Cities” (by Megan Devlin)