NonfictioNow celebrates 'overlooked' genre


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Speaking to a crowd of roughly 500 aspiring writers in the IMU Thursday morning, Rebecca Solnit, a San Francisco author of 13 books, said creative writing is still extremely relevant in today's society. And it is one reason many flocked to the University of Iowa from across the country this weekend.

The three-day NonfictioNow, the Bedell Nonfiction Conference, hosted by the UI Nonfiction Writing Program, kicked off its third year at the university on Thursday morning. With two years of planning and a budget of $80,000, the department selected three renowned nonfiction writers — Rebecca Solnit, Alison Bechdel, and John Edgar Wideman — to speak and read from their work, said Maggie McKnight, nonfiction writing coordinator.

"People have pretty much raved about the conference," she said. "They also seem to appreciate that it focuses on one genre that happens to be one of the most overlooked genres in the field of creative writing."

NonfictioNow was held for the first time at the UI in 2005 and a second time in 2007, McKnight said. The idea was Robin Hemley's, the director of the program, but the staff didn't expect much.

"We thought it would be a one-shot deal," McKnight said. "But it was so successful we decided to have it be every other year or every few years."

Many students said they were excited to see Solnit, an award-winning author, journalist, and activist.

Tonya Tienter, a student from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, who made the trip to Iowa City with some of her peers to attend the conference, said she was impressed with Solnit's speech.

"Just listening to [Solnit] talk really amazed me at how deeply she thinks about all the issues," Tienter said.

Sarah Johnson, a graduate student who traveled from Minnesota State University, said she is "so stoked" to see Solnit again when she reads at Englert tonight.

Beatrice Jacobson, a professor of English at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, said she appreciated Solnit's emphasis on the importance of creative writing in a political culture. Part of the reason Jacobson said she traveled to the conference is because St. Ambrose is planning to establish a writing major in the near future, and she wanted to learn.

Lindsay Hansen, a student in the M.F.A. Creative Writing Program at Ohio State University, said she is especially looking forward to seeing Bechdel because she loved her latest books. Her memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic was named Book of the Year by Time in 2006.

Kathleen Blackburn, another student in the M.F.A. Creative Writing Program at Ohio State, took a road trip to the conference with others in her program, including Hansen. She said the major draw to the conference is its focus on nonfiction writing.

"This conference is unique because it's the only one of its size in this region that is completely devoted to nonfiction," she said. "We really wanted to come out here and see what people are saying about it."

Events for the conference will be held at the IMU today from 8:45 a.m. until 6 p.m. Solnit will read from her work at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., at 8:30 p.m.

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