November 8, 2010


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:

Ode to Every Thing from Biss & Bresland on Vimeo.

Feel free to discuss it.

Robert Long Foreman is The Missouri Review’s Social Media Editor.

About robertlongforeman

The Missouri Review's Social Media Editor, Robert Long Foreman's work has appeared in journals that include the Michigan Quarterly Review, the Massachusetts Review, and Pleiades, among others. His essays were listed in the Notable Essays of Best American Essays 2008 and 2010.

One Response to NonfictionThen

  1. Stefanie says:

    For those interested, there’s a thoughtful introduction by Bresland to the video essay form here: