Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Notes from No Man's Land

American Essays
Eula Biss
The word pioneer betrays a disturbing willingness to repeat the worst mistake of the pioneers of the American West—the mistake of considering an inhabited place uninhabited. To imagine oneself as a pioneer in a place as densely populated as Chicago is either to deny the existence of your neighbors or to cast them as natives who must be displaced. Either way, it is a hostile fantasy.

Eula Biss grew up in what she calls a "mixed" family. Though she identifies herself as white, she shared a childhood with cousins whose father was from Jamaica, and learned about the Yoruba religion as her mother was initiated into the faith.

In this series of forthright essays, Biss sets out to examine issues of race and identity in America through the lens of history and of family. She makes links between lynching and the spread of the telephone, both of which required tall straight poles in public places. She considers the legacy of Reconstruction in public school systems, particularly the New York City classrooms where she teaches, and questions the instruction to make her students "better people." She remembers the white and black dolls she shared with her sister in light of the famous Doll Studies of Mamie and Kenneth Clark, and she rereads Laura Ingalls Wilder as she settles into the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Throughout, Biss acknowledges her own assumptions and privileges. Never hesitating to ask difficult questions and face the sometimes-embarrassing answers, she still remains hopeful about the possibilities of diversity.

Share Title

Publication Date
Trim Size
5 1/2 x 8 1/4
"Eula Biss's Notes from No Man's Land is the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the twenty-first century." —Kyle Minor, Salon

About the Author

Eula  Biss
Eula Biss is the author of On Immunity: An Inoculation, Notes from No Man’s Land, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and The Balloonists. Her essays have appeared in the Believer, Harper’s, and the New York Times.
More by author


  • “[Notes From No Man’s Land] is a beautiful exercise in consciousness; in bringing both intelligence and experience to bear on a subject that has implications for the way one behaves in the world.”—Los Angeles Times
  • “[The] most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the 21st century. . . . [U]nlike all but a handful of the best books I have ever read, it is unimpeachably great.”Salon
  • “Biss’ pairings of ideas, like those of most original thinkers, have the knack of seeming brilliant and obvious at the same time. . . . Forceful, beautiful essays.”—Lizzie Skurnick, National Public Radio
  • “Biss is telling us the story of our country—one we never saw coming.”—Chicago Tribune


This book is made possible, in part, through endowed gifts from the Arsham Ohanessian Charitable Remainder Unitrust, endowed gifts from the Ruth Easton Fund of the Edelstein Family Foundation, and by the generosity of Graywolf Press donors like you.
Back to Table of Contents