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.
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, a memoir about her transformation from journalist to carpenter. After spending her twenties as a staff writer at the award-winning alternative newsweekly the Boston Phoenix, in 2008 MacLaughlin quit her job to work as a carpenter’s assistant. Eight years later, MacLaughlin continues to pursue both building and writing. Her reviews and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Believer, The Rumpus, The Millions, and Bookslut, among other places, and she has been a guest on All Things Considered. MacLaughlin also writes a blog called Carpentrix. She lives near the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
EB: Have you always been a nonfiction writer?
NM: I totally was not. I got a job at the Boston Phoenix out of college, and I had worked doing journalism in high school and college, so working at the Phoenix was a very sense-making job. At the Phoenix I was writing book reviews and profiles, which are, of course, nonfiction, but in my own brain I was always a fiction writer. I always thought, Oh, if I write a book, it’s going to be a novel. When I was twenty-three or twenty-four, I took a fiction-writing workshop at GrubStreet [a creative writing center in Boston], and I thought, All right, this is it. This is what I want to do. It was all short stories, novels, and I never read nonfiction. Ever. Truly never. And then I started my carpentry work… 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
Lia Purpura is a poet, essayist, and translator from Baltimore, Maryland. She is the author of four collections of poems–King Baby (Alice James Books, 2008), Stone Sky Lifting (Ohio State University Press, 2000), The Brighter the Veil (Orchises Press, 1996), and It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful (Penguin/Viking, 2015). Purpura has also written three collections of essays (Rough Likeness, On Looking, and Increase), and one collection of translations (Poems of Grzegorz Musial: Berliner Tagebuch and Taste of Ash).
Purpura is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, a Fulbright Foundation Fellowship, three Pushcart Prizes, a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, and multiple residencies and fellowships at the MacDowell Colony. Her essay collection On Looking was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Purpura reads and teaches extensively around the country, most recently in MFA programs at Columbia University, and Bennington, and at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and Chautauqua Writers’ Conference.
Purpura is Writer in Residence at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and she teaches in the low residency MFA Program, the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington.
EB: How did you begin writing nonfiction? Continue reading
Susan Southard’s first book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, was a New York Times editors’ choice and named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, the Economist, and Kirkus. Nagasaki was also a finalist for the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, sponsored by Harvard’s Niemen Foundation and the Columbia University School of Journalism. Southard was a nonfiction fellow at the Norman Mailer Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and she holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, and Lapham’s Quarterly. She has taught nonfiction classes at Arizona State University’s Piper Writers Studio and has directed creative writing programs for incarcerated youth and at a federal prison for women outside Phoenix. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, where she is the founder and artistic director of Essential Theatre.
EB: What drew you to writing nonfiction?
SS: Telling true stories from others’ lives has been part of my artistic life for more than 25 years. I have written four plays based on the lives of struggling adolescents, homeless adults, domestic violence survivors, and the citizens of a small town in rural Arizona with a rich and controversial cultural history. I am also the founder and artistic director of Essential Theatre, a professional ensemble working in the field of theatre and social change—which for us means working with marginalized audiences and bringing their stories to the stage. For these projects, I have listened to, conceptualized, written, and performed thousands of true stories of people in the above communities, as well as incarcerated adults and youth, developmentally disabled adults, refugees, and veterans, among many others. Nonfiction writing was a natural next step. I was drawn into this genre by the desire to tell the stories of the survivors of the 1945 Nagasaki atomic bombing to a larger audience in the United States and across the world.
EB: What was it like to transition from writing nonfiction plays to writing nonfiction prose? Continue reading