By Melissa Vach
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Guest author B.J. Hollars will visit Viterbo on Thursday, Dec. 5 to speak to the Creative Writing Nonfiction class. At 6:30p.m. there will be a separate, free event for the general public in the Reinhart Center Boardroom where Hollars will read both a fiction and nonfiction piece. At the time of writing, Hollars has not yet decided which works he will read.
Hollars is an assistant professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire. His published nonfiction works include Thirteen Loops and Opening the Doors, both about civil rights in the South, as well as a book he edited, Blurring the Boundaries, which is a collection of essays from other authors and teachers about the craft of writing nonfiction.
Hollars was chosen to visit Elizabeth Marzoni’s Creative Writing Nonfiction class because of his scholarship regarding nonfiction genre conventions.
“When I was writing my civil rights books, I became obsessed with telling the ‘right’ story, though as I soon learned, there was no one version that applied to everyone,” Hollars told Lumen. “For instance, my first book, Thirteen Loops, tells the story of a 19-year-old African-American man who was murdered and lynched by Klansmen in Alabama in 1981. But as I later learned, the version I wrote wasn’t precisely the ‘right’ version for every reader. Each reader came to the book with his or her own assumptions and biases, and so, the story I wrote was read differently by different people. The words never change, but how those words were interpreted offered very different versions. I’d tried to allow the facts to drive the narrative, but even the facts seemed in flux.
“I think nonfiction is difficult to define because everyone has different definitions of truth,” Hollars said. “If we’re right to assume that nonfiction differs from fiction in that nonfiction is dependent on truth, then the real question is: What is truth? Probably this question is best left to the philosophers, but I think nonfiction writers are faced with it as well. Every time we sit down to write a ‘true scene’ of a remembered event, the limits of truth are dependent on an array of factors beyond the writer’s control. Simply put, I might interpret an event one way, but someone else might interpret that same event quite differently. That’s why nonfiction is difficult to define: because everyone possesses a version of truth, but no truth is ever authentic.”
Hollars will speak to the Creative Writing Nonfiction class about the ethics of writing nonfiction.
“I can’t account for everybody’s style or taste, so bringing in someone else is a good way to both complement and broaden what I do in the classroom,” Marzoni, assistant professor of English at Viterbo, told Lumen. “Part of being a writer is that you belong to this larger community. So you should go to readings, and you should be in conversation with other people who do this thing that you do. I think that college students who are seriously thinking about trying to pursue a career in writing should meet more people who do it than just their professor.”