I’ve completed a four-part series of “Yukon Dispatches” for Assay. Each dispatch tracks developments in my research during my year as a Fulbright fellow in Whitehorse, Yukon. Full sequence gathered and excerpted here.
“Comminglings of Law and Literature” aptly titles much of this piece, but the truth is that the more you read, the closer you will come to a life-sized, pink, papier-mâché moose. Opening excerpt:
I am presently on a Fulbright in Whitehorse, Yukon (northwestern Canada) to write essays. Politics-wise, this year gives me a little window through which to watch Indigenous land claims unfold in the Yukon, and pedagogy-wise it gives me time to observe the special relationship that Yukon College (the future Yukon University) maintains with the territory’s fourteen Indigenous First Nations.
Though I’m researching/writing full time, I’ve also been thinking about the pedagogy of Indigenous literature. I’m wrestling with this question: in what ways can and should an Indigenous literature course engage local Indigenous politics?
This question fits into a much larger one, of course. I.e., what are the special pressures—and the special opportunities—that local histories, local memories, and local politics present to instruction in the humanities? Particularly in a community-based, post-secondary teaching context?
This piece includes a crash course on Yukon’s colonial history. Then it turns to a Yukon College English class and their reading of artist/political scientist Lianne Charlie’s pink, life-sized, papier-mâché moose. Full piece here.
This is an essay about wandering and about fixity. This is also an essay about the body, place of arising, place of rootlessness: the birthed body of a person, the grounds and bounds and turf of home, a region’s ancestry coevolved and coevolving with a people, ancestral symbiosis of biome and culture. This is an essay about my friend’s head, the surgeon’s hands. This essay is also sometimes about leaves, and sometimes about fish.
When Rachel traveled for a holiday by the tropical sea, she hadn’t the ambition to swim out past the breakers. She just sat down in the froth of the waves, plunk, and let the tumbling white of each crash drag her slight frame downbeach, push her back up, tug her sideways, and fill her pajama pants with sand. The French say les vagues for the waves—vagues like the English “vague” (as in “uncertainty” but also related to “vagabond,” to “vagrant”), and I wonder now if my friend’s minimalism in the surf was born of premonition, a sense she might appreciate—though never trust—les belles vagues. But at the time it was her glee that struck me: how satisfied she was with this salty edge, how all she needed was wave after wave sloshing into her lap and sucking sand from beneath her calves. The sea pulled and spun her, sure, but she wasn’t even in deep enough for it to disturb the posture of her slender back.
French waves and English vagueness also share their name with a nerve: the vagus nerve. It’s the one that wanders throughout the body. It livens the lungs. It animates the stomach. It is responsible for the ear canal, for sweating, for the rate at which the heart pumps grief and love over the body’s crags and planes, into its crevices. But for all its wandering the vagus nerve always keeps a firm hand on the throat where it is gatekeeper of each gasp, each sigh, and every gulp or swallow.
Full essay published in the Fall 2018 issue of Ocean State Review.
Constructions of the ‘I’ in nonfiction receive ample study – particularly in discussions of memoir – yet when it comes to forms of the lyric essay, the narrator is unmapped. This article fills that gap in two ways: first, I question the convention of referring to lyric essay narrators as ‘speakers’. Reinscribing concepts of ‘speaking’, ‘speech’, and ‘voice’ within the historic development of Western metaphysical tradition reveals that those terms entail a complex of philosophic problems, namely, a deeply ingrained relationship to authoritative truth. This article takes the position that lyric essay narration cannot be accurately analysed with language invoking oppressive histories of systematic silencing and speech-based authoritative control. As a conceptual alternative, I argue that lyric essay narration more closely parallels listening than it does speaking. Adopting and adapting ethnomusicologist-anthropologist-linguist Steven Feld’s work with the Kaluli in Papua New Guinea, this article outlines and dialogues with a Kaluli concept called ‘lift-up-over-sounding’ to propose an analytic framework in which listening emerges as a multifaceted theoretic concept useful to studies of the narrator in creative nonfiction lyric essays. Full citation and article access here.
Research and teaching often cross-pollinate. A favorite example comes from the semester I taught lessons in ekphrasis in a creative writing workshop.
Rarely does a visiting writer sit down for the Friday morning craft talk and introduce a concept that I go on to use every day – every day – after. But this is exactly what happened when José Orduña, essayist, professor of English at the University of Nevada, and author of The Weight of Shadows visited.
The concept Orduña shared was this: one must have an occasion to write.
He showed us a photograph of the U.S.-Mexico wall and pointed out that while certain prominent political voices are calling to “build the wall,” the wall already exists. Indicating the wall in the photograph, Orduña said: “this is my occasion to write.”
“The occasion to write” helps me link two different course goals in my Introduction to the Nonfiction Essay: one goal is to expose students to contemporary trends in nonfiction. Another goal is to coax students into writing beyond themselves. I recently created an ekphrastic writing assignment to combine these, relying on art, history, and conversation to multiply students’ own occasions to write.
How People Got Fire is a gorgeous, sixteen-minute film. It’s gorgeous because ancient reality—what Robert Bringhurst would call mythtime—folds into the day to day of a contemporary present. And it’s gorgeous because it’s set in Carcross, Yukon. Plus, it’s an animated documentary (fascinating concept). So I opened up some questions and advanced some arguments.
The realism of the southern Yukon landscape and the specificity of Carcross Mountain suggest this film’s relationship to the real world is crucial. In order to register the film’s meaning, its argument, or its thesis, it’s thus crucial we understand the film to be “true.” But the film represents at least two real worlds: a nonfiction distant time and a nonfiction present time. As a documentary film, what is the production documenting about each? And as a digital essay, what is the film asking about each? How do distant time and present time relate? How do the mixed approaches of abstraction and realism knit these two worlds together without defining one as more true than the other?
Someone cries out from the water. She thrusts her head and shoulders upward and lingers in the air for a still silent moment, then peels off sideways. Her buoyancy fails and she slips beneath the sea. An eagle rides the air overhead. On the far side of the water, behind the small circles spreading and already dissipating in the silence, mist clings to a muscle of ice. The glacier is jagged and blue beneath an overlay of snow.
I am a small girl standing on the side of the road looking out over the water and clutching my father’s index finger. He is concentrating. He wonders if he has understood. Someone is brokenhearted in the black and silver sea and there is an eagle overhead. Across the cove, the curving tongue of glacier says nothing. Full essay here.
My composition course on race and mass incarceration includes a semester-long partnership with stellar research librarian Paula Roper. The University of Missouri Library featured our work in their newsletter. Here’s an excerpt of the piece, by librarian Jennifer Gravely:
Corinna’s students read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and then identified an aspect they’d like to research and consider from other perspectives. […]
Paula introduced students to the library and demonstrated the stages of research required for the assignment. Corinna says, “Paula incorporated passages from Alexander’s book, linked them to references from Alexander’s endnotes, and demonstrated research steps that exactly mimicked the assignment’s requirements. Paula was also on board as our class librarian: she met with students one-on-one, answered emails, and supported individual research processes.” Paula then adapted this lesson, splitting the information into smaller lessons Corinna could integrate into her online course.
Rooster Cogburn loves his ostrich. Its eggs are for sale.
You can get in to one by tapping a nail through the shell. I don’t recall that I used a nail—it could have been a corkscrew—but I blew out the raw yolk and egg white and rinsed the empty shell, placing it on a blue towel to drip by the sink. It was huge, the size of my left lung, I remember thinking, and was a creamier color than I expected, a butter egg. The counter slanted under the towel, but the egg didn’t roll or even waver. It must have been I who slanted then, lightheaded from the sustained air pressure it had taken to empty the shell, or dizzy from something more general and slower to accumulate, something in the tap water, perhaps.
We economized words then, there, weighing the air between one another with minimal talk.
Happy graduation, Corinna.
I got you an ostrich egg.
Breakfast? We can have it before stuff starts, early.
There is nothing here I could have said. This lung-sized egg, so soon broken? An exacting kind of grief would have bloomed in my throat. My friend would have seen it there, my swallow stymied, and had the kindness not to smile. Full essay in Tammy 6.
A tiresome, albeit necessary question: what are the rules of truth in nonfiction? In this Brevity post, I find Niklaus Luhmann, German sociologist and systems theorist, useful in de-centering the debate. Excerpt:
The true/false binary that’s useful in science is, I submit, of dubious service to literature, for it’s not art’s project to lie. And I can’t, at the moment, think of any art or genre that claims falsehood. Imagination, sure. Surreality, hyperreality, fantasy—yes, yes, yes. But none of these are properly understood as false. Metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche are among our basic literary tools. Hyperbole, irony, personification, imagistic juxtaposition, even the objective correlative—none of these tools are for lying. We use them to communicate.
[…] Yet for categorization (read: library organization) purposes, does it even count as nonfiction? is a crucial question. Still, is there a way the term “nonfiction” could serve beyond these implied thumbs-up/thumbs-down, yay/nay, qualified/disqualified, on the shelf or off it, true/false stakes?
If yes, maybe we have to skyhook the practical, organizational impetus of genre. This is what I propose: maybe we can treat “nonfiction” selectively—sometimes as a genre, but also sometimes as a lens of reading. Full post here.