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