“What Do I Know To Be True?”: Emma Copley Eisenberg on Truth in Nonfiction, Writing Trauma, and The Dead Girl Newsroom
Jacqueline Alnes talks with Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of true-crime book The Third Rainbow Girl, “about what it means to seek truth in nonfiction, and how writing the personal can allow for more complicated realities to emerge; how undermining conventions of genre can impact the way a book is both marketed and read; and what it means to find clarity — or at least community — while writing into murky, and often traumatizing subject matter.”
Questions of “the boundaries between subject and writer, research and lived experience, and how we classify it all” are significant in journalism and in nonfiction writing. In the book, Alnes writes, “Eisenberg undermines many features of the subgenre by centering place as a major subject.” According to Alnes, Eisenberg inserts herself into the narrative as someone who cares about the region where the crime occurred and can therefore discuss some of the expectations and stereotypes of the people who live there. “In prose that brims with empathy, and through research that illuminates narratives that have long been hidden by problematic representation, Eisenberg exposes the kinds of fictions we tell ourselves often enough that we believe them to be true.”
Myriam Gurba was among the first to call out the novel American Dirt, published in January 2020, as “a novel filled with stereotypes of Mexicans.” She is one of the founding members of Dignidad Literaria, a group that arose out of the American Dirt controversy to demand more representation of people of color in publishing.
Here she explains, “As I’ve learned again and again, if you speak out against racism, there are risks you must take on.”
“Reflections on my father’s novels The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, in the age of American Dirt”
Alexandra Styron, daughter of William Styron, writes, “With the possible exception of Harriet Beecher Stowe, my father was the first novelist in modern history to be accused of cultural appropriation.”
And, she continues, “That experience, and what he made of it, reflects complicated truths about mid-century American culture, and maybe offers some guidance for our own contentious times.”
Despite the publishing industry’s continuing dominancy by white men, Kristin Iversen finds some reasons for hope:
While it’s still hard to say what will or won’t be a best-seller, there are a couple of things that are promising when it comes to publishing’s future: One is that most of the last decade’s best-selling books were written by women, and another is that the majority of the people reading multiple books each year are also women. And so it follows that if there’s one prevailing theme in the literary world right now, it’s that the industry’s most influential members — from behind-the-scenes publicity powerhouses to the biggest authors to prominent critics to podcast hosts to, you know, supermodels — are overwhelmingly women.
Read here about the women Iversen sees as the sources of these hopes.
Travis M. Andrews discusses the recent HBO adaptation of King’s The Outsider by focusing on “one of the primary challenges in adapting King’s work: taking something so interior (in this case, doubt) and making it visual.”
Joanna Trollope on families, fiction and feminism: ‘Society still expects women to do all the caring’
Joanna “Trollope is the queen of contemporary women’s fiction and seems to be wired to the anxieties of a devoted, predominantly female, readership. The complexities of life and love cascade through novels that have confronted lust, adoption, divorce, infidelity and the changing nature of the modern family.”
In this piece for the Guardian Claire Armitstead weaves together a short biography, references to Trollope’s novels, and an interview with the author.
Here’s my favorite quotation from Trollope: fiction “can be a physical confessional: when you’re within the covers of a book, you can admit to all kinds of things that you can’t otherwise. It’s also where you learn about the rest of human life and where you get your most profound experience of life – except from actually living it.”
© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown