Since publishing her latest book, The Argonauts, winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, author Maggie Nelson ’94 has received attention from more mainstream outlets and audiences. As her popularity grows beyond academic circles, her earlier works, including The Red Parts and Bluets, are gaining in visibility.
A recent article from The Telegraph discusses Nelson’s books of nonfiction published between 2005 and 2015, and draws connections between them, focusing on the similarities in content and form that tie these works together:
More than anything, Nelson’s project [is]: to behave as though the land of the heart were automatically a subject for reportage, and not just a cause for an outpouring of emotion. Heartbreak, longing, sex, death, fear, family trauma, love, maternity, homonormativity: these are the territories from which Nelson has chosen to deliver her dispatches. If that sounds merely confessional, the books are far from it . . .
Nelson’s interest in form might be traced to her beginnings as a poet. “I think of the ‘I’ as a character that I’m controlling in a certain way,” she explains.
Nelson started on her journey experimenting with confessional writing as an undergraduate at Wesleyan and extended it into a successful career as a creative nonfiction writer:
At Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Nelson wrote a thesis on confessionalism in the work of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton; in graduate school, she studied the New York School poets, and in particular Frank O’Hara, who performed some of the more humdrum aspects of his life on the page.
“Poetry is assumed often to come from a speaker who may or may not be you—and may include dreams or fantasies or fears,” Nelson tells me. “No one says, ‘Oh, she writes autobiographical poetry.’ I have come at autobiography from a different angle from the prose memoir.”
Click here to purchase books by Maggie Nelson, including Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull), Bluets (Wave Books), and The Argonauts (Graywolf Press).