For the full essay, see it on The Rumpus.
Originally published on December 2, 2014.
Nonfiction is hard to pin down. When I tell people I write nonfiction, I assume they imagine 800-page biographies of dead presidents, or misery memoirs about years of drug addiction while parents are dying of cancer, or scathing book reviews in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Nonfiction is too many things to be given one simple name, so it’s easier to define it by what it’s not. And the one thing it’s not is fiction.
“Nonfiction is the whole realm from investigative journalism to pose poems, from manifestos to love letters, from dictionaries to packing lists,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the introduction of her new book. “This territory to which I am, officially, consigned couldn’t be more spacious, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be free to roam in its expanses.” In The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness, Solnit showcases all that nonfiction can do. “As nonfiction – that leftover term apotheosizing fiction – gets defined down as only memoir and essay, I’ve wanted to open it back up again, to claim it as virtually everything else,” writes Solnit in the introduction. “Calling this anthology an encyclopedia was a way to call attention to that range.”