Looking Ahead: Graywolf Nonfiction in 2014


Adding to Graywolf’s list of award-winning fiction and poetry titles is the third main branch of its publishing program: nonfiction, which has been going from strength to strength in recent years. This list comprises lyric essay and cultural criticism; memoirs dark and light; and a leading series of craft books by creative writers. Our nonfiction writers are united by a strong vision and a dynamic approach to style and language, and many—as you can see in our 2014 line up—weave personal stories into larger observations about society. Recent triumphs include Geoff Dyer’s win for criticism with a National Book Critics Circle Award, and a nomination for Kevin Young’s The Grey Album, as well as Deborah Baker’s National Book Award finalist, The Convert. This string of successes goes back to Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land, also an NBCC winner, and a book that continues to have a huge impact on readers. So we are particularly excited that on our fortieth anniversary she is ready to publish her next book, described below.Fiona McCrae, Director and Publisher



The first of the 2014 nonfiction list out of the gate is Justin Hocking’s The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld. In this deeply appealing memoir, we follow a young man as he moves from Colorado to New York. He is part skateboarding fanatic, part relationship fanatic, part Herman Melville fanatic. But he lacks a clear plan. He soon becomes a surfing fanatic in Queens, which assuages his longing for the skateboard, connects him with Melville’s ocean, and affords us a wonderfully vivid glimpse at an unexpected New York. And relationships? You will have to read the book to find that out. Be warned: in reading his book, you may find yourself becoming quite attached to Mr. Hocking.



Primed for launch in April, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams is creating a stir already, attracting a great blurb from the Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton, who called it “fiercely, prodigiously brave. This is the essay at its creative, philosophical best.” The Empathy Exams is the most recent winner of Graywolf’s nonfiction prize. In it, Jamison explores ways in which we can (and cannot) comprehend the pain—real and imagined, internal and external—suffered by others and even ourselves. In so doing, she investigates a mysterious disease in which sufferers believe they have small fibers growing beneath their skin; a fiendishly difficult ultramarathon; and her experiences as a medical actor, rating the empathy of students. Her muscular prose reflects the depth and originality of her thought at every turn. Mary Karr says you will be “a better human” for reading this book. What greater reason can you have for diving in?



Lewis Buzbee, whose The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop was a best seller for Graywolf, returns to the list in August with Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom. Reading this will make you want to run to the nearest classroom to teach or to learn, or failing that, to vote ardently for increased funding for schools across the country. Buzbee, by his own admission an “average student” who lost his way during adolescence, argues convincingly that he was saved by the time and attention of a handful of key teachers working in a well funded California school system that has all but disappeared today. Buzbee’s brand of history and memoir is both entertaining and enlightening.



Vikram Chandra’s Geek Sublime is solidly grounded in the world of computer programming. But from there he ladders up through discussions of the macho nature of Silicon Valley, the structure of Sanskrit, and finally to ancient and abiding yogic ideas about the nature of art and the self. Throughout, he shares insights from his years working as a computer coder to support his fiction writing. Part memoir, part philosophical enquiry, this meditation by one of his generation’s most accomplished novelists, will astound and delight. The book is already published in India, where it is called Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code.



Six years since we published her extraordinary National Book Critics Circle Award–winning Notes From No Man’s Land (another in our nonfiction prize series) we are delighted to publish Eula Biss’s next book On Immunity: An InoculationBiss’s tenacious, Sontag-like intelligence goes to work on unpacking our fears—irrational and otherwise—around the vexed subject of vaccinations. Biss asks what are we more afraid of: the needle, the disease, our scientists and doctors, or each other? Just in is a wonderful quote from Anne Fadiman, who writes, “Biss is a candid, original, and unfailingly smart guide through these thorny thickets.”