When We Aspire to Write Like Ourselves: A Conversation with Carl H. Klaus

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Bill Morris posted on 14 Jan 2011 to The Millions website. [View Full Article]

Carl H. Klaus, now 78, has dedicated his life to the reading, teaching and writing of personal essays. He taught at the University of Iowa from 1962 to 1997, where he was founding director of the Nonfiction Writing Program. He is the author and co-author of several textbooks as well as five books of essays, including Weathering Winter, Taking Retirement: A Beginner’s Diary, My Vegetable Love, and Letters to Kate: Life after Life. Klaus has just published The Made-Up Self: Impersonation In the Personal Essay, a deft, fascinating exploration of the ways essayists manufacture numerous selves in order to convey their experiences and the workings of their minds. It’s the defining achievement of a long and distinguished career, essential reading for anyone who loves the personal essay. As Reality Hunger author David Shields says, the book is also “an extremely valuable correction to any misconception of ‘nonfiction as truth.’” Klaus recently talked with The Millions by telephone from his home in Iowa City.

The Millions: When I saw your new book, I’ve got to tell you, I thought it sounded pretty post-modern – a book of essays on the art of essay writing by an essayist who was also a teacher of essay writing. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was very much for a general reader, a layman, anybody who’s interested in essay writing. Was that what you hoped to accomplish with the book?

Carl Klaus: Well, I was overridingly concerned with my sense of how much impersonation is involved in a kind of writing that I had always taken to be about as close as one could get to the author herself or himself. This is an awareness that grew on me over years of reading essays and also writing them and reading what essayists themselves had to say. I should tell you that I was frankly astonished by my discoveries. But it is, in a very real sense, a post-modern book – it’s at odds with a kind of fixed and simplistic notion of the self. I wanted readers to see how voice and persona are so multiple and mutable. [More…]

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