Over the weekend I attended the Bedell NonfictionNow conference in Iowa City. It was, in many ways, what I, and probably others, hoped for – a conference smaller and more specialized than other, more gigantic writing conferences, but still well-attended, enlightening, thought-provoking, etc. This was the third installment of the conference, but the first one I’d attended, for reasons both reasonable and not.
I find myself, for the first time in a while, in a post-conference condition I’d almost forgotten was possible. I attended a handful of panels, all of which were worth attending, but the sum total of all the panel attendance has been an oddly debilitating mental exhaustion. It is a welcome feeling, brought on by a lot of smart insights smartly articulated by writers whose job it is to articulate insights. But it does tend to decommission me mentally for a day or so; hence, I spent a lot of yesterday sleeping, and had a nightmare in which I was to give a presentation but couldn’t read my own handwriting, which was for some reason how I had recorded the thoughts I wanted to present.
But enough about me; onto the brief distillation of what I saw at the conference. One was a panel on incorporating research into our nonfiction work; another was a panel on the need to consider the privacy of others when writing memoirs, which tend to risk violating the privacy of others, ideally in a productive and self-justified fashion; the participants of yet another panel discussed the fruitful practice of writing about objects. These are the things nonfiction writers talk about at conferences, and I thank them for it.
My wife’s favorite panel was one that I missed, as I went for a stroll around Iowa City and purchased a copy of Dan Beachy-Quick’s “A Whaler’s Dictionary.” The panel I missed was on the interdisciplinary essay, and among other things the panelists showed some films, one of them a video essay by Eula Biss and John Bresland called “Ode to Every Thing.” An enthusiastic reader of Biss, and an avid assigner of her work to undergraduate nonfiction workshops, I was disappointed to have missed this, but the film is available online, and this is what it is:
Feel free to discuss it.
Robert Long Foreman is The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor.