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
Ann Friedman is a freelance journalist who writes a weekly column for New York Magazine’s The Cut. She is also a regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, The Gentlewoman, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, ELLE, and The Guardian. Friedman has worked as an editor at AlterNet, Feministing, The American Prospect, and GOOD magazine. She is the co-founder of Tomorrow magazine. She co-hosts Call Your Girlfriend, a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere, with her friend, Aminatou Sow. She also sends a weekly email newsletter and makes hand-draws pie charts, which you can find on her website. Friedman lives in Los Angeles.
EB: Let’s start at the beginning. What is your writing-nonfiction origin story?
AF: When I was a kid I would write fiction, but ever since I’ve been old enough to read newspapers and magazines, I’ve been primarily into writing nonfiction. I still love reading fiction and I have boundless respect for its writers. But for me, there is so much weird and wild and important stuff going on in the world—I take my inspiration from it, want to comment on it, want to explore it. Nonfiction is so direct in that way. I love it.
EB: Seriously, why bother making stuff up? The real world is nuts. What is the weirdest, wildest, most important thing you’ve written about lately?
AF: I recently finished a feature about a jetpack pilot. There’s this weird arms race (backs race??) happening right now to build a jetpack that will fly for more than 5 minutes. Of course they’re all semi-crazy dudes who are vying to be the first. It’s fascinating. And sure, you could make them up. But it’s much more fun to interview them IRL. I mean, I got to strap on a jetpack while reporting this article! Continue reading
In the eighth of her series of interviews with women who write nonfiction, E.B. Bartels chats with prolific author Patricia Beard.
Patricia Beard has written nine books of nonfiction, including After the Ball: Gilded Age Secrets, Boardroom Betrayals, and the Party That Ignited the Great Wall Street Scandal of 1905 (Harper Perennial, 2004), Blue Blood and Mutiny: The Fight for the Soul of Morgan Stanley (William Morrow, 2007), and Growing Up Republican: Christine Whitman: The Politics of Character (HarperCollins, 1996). Most recently, Beard has published a novel, A Certain Summer (Simon & Schuster, 2013). Additionally, she has written hundreds of magazine articles and essays as the former features editor of Town & Country, the former editor-at-large of Elle, and the former styles features editor of Mirabella magazine.
EB: Why have you been drawn to writing nonfiction? Continue reading
In the fourth of her series of interviews with women who write nonfiction, E.B. Bartels speaks with Cris Beam.
Cris Beam has written two books of nonfiction–Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (Harcourt, 2007) and To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care (Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt, 2013)–and a young adult novel, I Am J (Little, Brown, 2011). Her books have received many awards, including a Lambda Literary award and a Stonewall Honor for Transparent, and a Kirkus and American Library Association Best Book honor and a Junior Library Guild Selection for I Am J. Additionally, Beam’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atavist, The Huffington Post, The Awl, Out, and on This American Life, among others. She teaches writing at Columbia University and New York University.
EB: Why have you–as a writer, a woman, a person–been drawn to writing nonfiction?
CB: I write fiction as well, but nonfiction is such a large genre–there is so much room in it, so much room to play with form–it feels like there are endless possibilities.
I really love learning about different types of people, and I love reporting on them. I started out as a journalist–I’ve always wanted to know how people think, and why they do the things they do. I write to try to understand how people make their decisions, how they live together, how they form communities. You can do that with fiction, you can imagine–but nonfiction allows me to actually spend time with people and ask them questions I might not be able to ask in fiction. Nonfiction allows me to be a kind of spy. Continue reading