2012 KU Common Book
Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
In a book that begins with a series of lynchings and ends with a series of apologies, Eula Biss explores race in America. Her response to the topic is informed by the experiences chronicled in these essays—teaching in a Harlem school on the morning of 9/11, reporting for an African American newspaper in San Diego, watching the aftermath of Katrina from a college town in Iowa, and settling in Chicago's most diverse neighborhood. As Biss moves across the country—from New York to California to the Midwest—she brings an eclectic education to the page, drawing variously on the Eagles, Laura Ingalls Wilder, James Baldwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Joan Didion, religious pamphlets, and reality television shows. These spare, sometimes lyric essays explore the legacy of race in America, artfully revealing in intimate detail how families, schools, and neighborhoods participate in preserving racial privilege.
(Material provided by Graywolf Press)
Eula Biss Campus Visit, Oct. 4-5, 2012
Eula Biss is the author of The Balloonists and Notes from No Man's Land. She holds a B.A. in nonfiction writing from Hampshire College and an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. Her work on myth and metaphor in medicine is currently supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, and an NEA Literature Fellowship, and her writing has been recognized by a Jaffe Writers' Award, a 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library, a Pushcart Prize, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Her essays have recently appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Best Creative Nonfiction, and the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Nonfiction as well as in The Believer, Gulf Coast, Columbia, Ninth Letter, the North American Review, the Iowa Review, the Seneca Review, and Harper's.
(Material provided by Graywolf Press)
Awards and Accolades
Biss has received many awards and accolades for her writing. A sampling of her accomplishments:
Notes from the Selection Committee
The Common Book Selection Committee unanimously chose Eula Biss’ Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays as the 2012-13, and first, common book for the University of Kansas. Although all finalists met the initial selection criteria, the committee felt that Notes from No Man’s Land was the best choice based on the following criteria: The book should be intellectually stimulating, promote conversation among readers, lend itself to a variety of programming opportunities, have potential for classroom use within various departments and disciplines, and be available as both paperback and e-book.
Biss’ geography, her physical location, and the way she writes will be familiar to KU students. While the committee wanted a book that reflects the identity of the University of Kansas, we also wanted a book that challenges some of the assumptions underlying that identity. Biss’ dealings with race and privilege, a primary subject of the book, played an important role in our decision. We felt Notes from No Man’s Land would contribute to the ongoing conversations about the promotion of and challenges to diversity in our own community. Through her eloquent collection of essays, Biss encourages readers to consider assumptions about identity – about how they self-identify and identify others across different spectrums – that the committee felt our students should face and explore.
The committee also felt strongly that the selection should be a book that students would find accessible and engaging but that would also challenge them to think critically. Notes from No Man’s Land is creatively conceived – mixing personal experience and cultural criticism – and well written. The text is a lesson in careful word choice, varied sentence structure, and how to write well. Each essay is freestanding, so that students have many entry points into the readings. Overall, the committee sought a book that was provocative, challenging, creative, and meaningful. Notes from No Man’s Land carries out these qualities across all of its components: presentation, diction, prose, and subject.
We chose Notes from No Man’s Land as KU’s inaugural common book not because it met selection criteria, but because it far exceeded them.