Speak Easy: Kristen Iversen Dishes On Creative Nonfiction and Mark Twain’s Finances

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Author of three books and head of the University of Cincinnati’s literary nonfiction PhD program, Kristen Iversen has enjoyed a slew of awards and praise for her 2012 book, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (Broadway Books). Ahead of her reading for UC’s Visiting Writers Series, Iversen dishes on creative nonfiction and Mark Twain’s finances.

Creative nonfiction requires solid journalism and engaging storytelling—how tough is it to wear both hats?
It’s always a balance between fact and style. You have to do all the same things a poet and a novelist does, but you have to maintain a very strong sense of integrity. Often people aren’t aware of the all the subgenres involved in literary nonfiction: essay, travel and nature writing, memoir. One of the more exciting aspects of the program at UC is we’re trying to address all of those.

How has the reaction to Full Body Burden impacted your life?
The book has sparked a new wave of activism. An attempt by the Department of Energy and the National Wildlife Service to conduct a controlled weed burn at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge was defeated. It’s also allowed me to travel to schools and universities around the country with Clifton Truman Daniel, President Harry Truman’s grandson, and survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to talk about the impact of nuclear weapons.

What are you working on now?
Another book of narrative nonfiction, this time about Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain. They had a very interesting friendship. Tesla was very literary and Twain liked technology, but both made money and lost money—they were brilliant but not always good at handling their finances or fame.

What role do you feel creative nonfiction plays in our culture? What do we get from it that we can’t get from straight reporting or pure fiction? Our lives have become increasingly complex, so we look for stories that help us make sense of the chaos. Literary nonfiction helps us make sense of reality. Both [fiction and nonfiction] are aiming toward the same emotional truth—a larger understanding about who we are and why our lives matter.

Kristen Iversen, UC’s Visiting Writers Series, 4 pm, April 3, Langsam Library

Originally published in the April 2015 issue.

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