Photo Credit: Jolene Siana
MariNaomi is the author and illustrator of Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Resume, Ages 0 to 22 (Harper Perennial, 2011), Dragon’s Breath and Other True Stories (2dcloud/Uncivilized Books, 2014), Turning Japanese (2dcloud, 2016), and I Thought YOU Hated ME (Retrofit Comics, 2016). Her work has appeared in over sixty print publications and has been featured on numerous websites, such as LA Review of Books, Midnight Breakfast, and BuzzFeed. From 2011-2013 her comics appeared as the column Smoke In Your Eyes on The Rumpus.
MariNaomi’s comics and paintings have been featured by such institutions as the Smithsonian, the De Young Museum, the Cartoon Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum, and the Japanese American Museum. In 2011, Mari toured with the literary roadshow Sister Spit. She is the creator and curator of the Cartoonists of Color Database and the Queer Cartoonists Database. She has taught classes for the California College of the Arts Comics MFA program, and is currently a guest editor at PEN America.
E.B. Bartels: How did you begin writing and drawing nonfiction? What attracted you to the genre?
MariNaomi: As a girl (as early as age five) I thought I’d grow up to be a novelist, and by age 21 I’d written two novels. I was determined to be a best-selling prodigy. Well, that’s not how things turned out, and I quickly learned that trying to get published is a different game than making up stories, and that I don’t deal well with rejection. After a particularly cruel comment from a publisher (“Who would ever want to read a book like this? It’s too depressing.”) I was shamed into novelistic silence, and I put away my typewriter (yes, both novels were written on typewriters!). Continue reading
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is the founder of MuslimGirl.com, an online magazine and community for Muslim women. Her memoir, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, was published by Simon & Schuster in October 2016 and was listed as a New York Times Editor’s Pick. Al-Khatahtbeh’s work has appeared in New York Magazine, Time, and Teen Vogue, among others. You can follow her on Twitter at @xoamani. Al-Khatahtbeh is based in New York.
E.B. Bartels: First off, how did you start writing nonfiction?
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh: I started writing nonfiction as a means of survival. For me, writing was the only space I could squeeze myself into. Chronicling my experiences became a way to make sense of them. It also felt like the only way I could get my voice out there. When I held the pen, I was the one with the mic. It not only empowered me with a platform, it also connected me with my friends and other likeminded people.
EB: You created the website MuslimGirl.com. Could you speak a little about the history of the site and how you have used nonfiction to form a community online? Continue reading
Eula Biss is the author of On Immunity: An Inoculation, which was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review, and Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 2010 and was the winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. Biss’s first book, The Balloonists, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2002. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, an National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, and a Jaffe Writers’ Award. Her essays have appeared in The Believer, Harper’s, and The New York Times Magazine, among others. Biss holds a B.A. in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. She teaches at Northwestern University and lives with her family in Evanston, Illinois.
BARTELS: How did you begin writing nonfiction?
BISS: I began writing nonfiction by writing poetry, which is nonfiction in the sense that it’s not fiction. I earned my undergraduate degree in nonfiction under the mentorship of three poets: Martin Espada, Deb Gorlin, and Paul Jenkins. I studied the tradition of prose poetry in college and I was writing what I called prose poetry by the time I graduated. I thought of myself as a poet, and my community was a community of poets—that hasn’t changed. My transition into writing essays was fairly organic. The prose poems I was writing gradually became longer and longer, and heavier on information. There’s a fine line, if there’s a line at all, between a 3,000-word autobiographical prose poem and a short personal essay.
BARTELS: I’ve heard your first book, The Balloonists, described as a book of poetry. But if the line is so fine, do you really see it in that genre? Continue reading
Melissa Broder is a poet, essayist, and the writer behind the Twitter account @sosadtoday. She has written an essay collection of the same name, So Sad Today (Grand Central, 2016), and four books of poetry: Last Sext (Tin House, 2016), Scarecrone (Publishing Genius Press, 2014), Meat Heart (Publishing Genius Press, 2012), and When You Say One Thing But Mean Your Mother (Ampersand Books, 2010). Her first novel, The Pisces, will be published by Hogarth/Crown in 2018. You can read a selection of her poetry here. Broder received her BA from Tufts University and her MFA from City College of New York. By day, she is Director of Media and Special Projects at NewHive. She lives in Venice, California.
EB: How did you begin writing nonfiction? What attracted you to the genre?
MB: When I lived in New York I used to write poetry a lot on the subway. When I moved to Los Angeles three years ago, I started to dictate a lot in the car—stream of consciousness style—and the pieces started getting longer. I think that’s how I started doing these longer, essay-type pieces.
EB: Were the pieces longer just because you were spending more time in the car than on the subway?
MB: Yeah. Exactly. I’m one of those people that’s not good at sitting still or relaxing.
EB: Me too, it’s fine. Continue reading
Suki Kim is an investigative journalist, novelist, and the only writer ever to live undercover in North Korea. In 2011, Kim Jong Il’s final year, Kim spent six months posing as a Christian missionary and an English teacher in Pyongyang, documenting the psychology of the future leaders of North Korea, which resulted in her New York Times bestselling work of literary nonfiction, Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. Kim has also written for the New York Times, New York Review of Books, Harper’s, and The New Republic, where she is a contributing editor. Her first novel, The Interpreter, was a finalist for a PEN Hemingway Prize. Born and raised in Seoul, Kim lives in New York.
EB: How did you begin writing nonfiction?
SK: My first book was a novel. But the very month The Interpreter was published was actually the same month that my first longform nonfiction was published. For me, it was always a natural transition. They are both prose I feel comfortable in so I can’t recall a point when it all began. Perhaps it’s about the subject. Some subjects require nonfiction, and in this case, the topic of my first nonfiction was North Korea. Continue reading