Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Nov. 11, 2009
Visiting nonfiction writers
By Jeff Charis-Carlson
Tonight the University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program will host its final visiting writer for the fall semester: Gretel Ehrlich, the author of 13 books and the recipient of this year's PEN/Thoreau Award for "innovative environmental writing."
John D'Agata, UI associate professor of nonfiction, described Ehrlich as "a nature writer, but it's a nature writing that isn't sanctimonious. It's deeply felt, and even highly spiritual, yet it's also grounded in science and the diamond-sharp scrutiny of a naturalist."
Ehrlich will be the latest in a series of visiting writers the program is bringing in to help assure its students -- as well as to persuade the City of Literature at large -- that nonfiction writing is a creative process on par with fiction writing and poetry. Beholden neither to a journalist's commitment to veracity nor to the strictures of academic argument, the creative nonfiction writer is free to produce essays that allow readers to experience the world -- essays that can bridge the spiritual, the natural and the scientific.
As with visiting writer John McPhee earlier this year, Erlich offers local residents a chance to hear from a nonfiction writer who has helped to shape how the genre has evolved. Her first book, "The Solace of Open Spaces," especially has been hailed as a modern classic of nonfiction writing.
Erlich will read at 7 p.m. today in 101 Becker Communication Studies Building. In addition to the Nonfiction Writing Program, her reading is being sponsored by UI's English Department, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Provost's Office.