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
Virgie Tovar is a writer, speaker, and activist. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality, focusing on the intersections of body size, race, and gender, and is one of the nation’s leading lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love, and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the author of Destination DD: Adventures of a Breast Fetishist with 40DDs (Sexy Advisors Press, 2007) and the online book project Awake, Sleeping Heart. She also keeps a blog. Tovar is a former plus size style writer for Buzzfeed, and her work has been featured by the New York Times, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, Bust Magazine, MTV, and NPR, among others. Tovar founded the four-week online course, Babecamp, designed to help people end their relationship with diet culture. Tovar also began the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. She offers workshops and lectures nationwide. Tovar lives in San Francisco.
EB: How did you begin writing in general, and writing nonfiction specifically?
VT: I don’t even entirely remember how it all started. I think I am a multi-disciplinary person. My art, my process, is so reflective of who I am as a person. So much of that has to do with growing up with immigrant parents and being encouraged to be really versatile and really diversified. My grandfather raised me, and he always had eighteen hustles going. I think that versatility and that value of resilience and diversification reflects how I work as an artist.