Expanding the Parameters of Literary Nonfiction

by Monica Barron, Book Series Editor, Contemporary Nonfiction Series

The first publication in the Contemporary Nonfiction Series, Trout Streams of the Heart by Chad Hanson, was published in April. It is a lovely collection of narrative essays with a first-person narrator and an ecocritical bent. The second volume, Bodies, of the Holocene by Christopher Cokinos, is due out this October, and pushes the boundaries of the essay firmly into the lyric essay category and affiliates even with prose poems. Over time the books in this series will define the series. But we are pleased that the initial books in the series suggest the broad territory we are interested in: traditional literary essays, researched nonfiction, memoir if it is firmly situated in a cultural/literary/social context, and lyric essays.

A few months ago at the AWP (Associated Writing Programs) Conference in Boston I attended a session hosted by AGNI journal, “Options of the I: The Post-Memoir Memoir.” I went to that session because I feel AGNI and The Seneca Review have done incalculably valuable work to enlarge our conception of literary nonfiction, creative nonfiction, and to expand the parameters of the lyric essay. Panelist Lia Purpura spoke of the palette of gestures she drew from in the “atmosphere of lyric permissiveness” necessary for her work. It seems to me she’s pointing at not just the work she’s done in her life to make writing possible, but also the work editors do to enlarge or define the literary territory their magazines and presses inhabit.

As I sit down this summer to read manuscripts for this fledgling series, contact writers, or arrange upcoming visits with writers, all of it is in the service of finding manuscripts that contain what at least one of those AWP panelists referred to as “new configurations of the contemplative and narrative self.” I know there are writers out there ambitious to situate their work in magazines with a track record of publishing the full range of nonfiction. If you are building a collection of such work, please see the author guidelines for our Nonfiction Series and send us your book proposal.

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