Fellow: Awarded 2011
Field of Study: General Nonfiction
Competition: US & Canada
With The Balloonists (Hanging Loose Press, 2002), then 25-year-old Eula Biss established herself as a unique voice in American letters and a talent to be reckoned with. Started while she was still an undergraduate at Hampshire College (B.A., 1999), The Balloonists, which Ms. Biss describes as “an essay on marriage in prose poetry,” was completed with the support of a Threshold Grant from her alma mater while she was working with public school students as a Creative Writing Instructor for the DreamYard Project in Harlem and the Bronx. Award-winning poet and 2006 Guggenheim Fellow Martín Espada praised the prose poems in this “most impressive debut” as “shards of gleaming observation, fragments of intimacy and illusion. Here we find our families and ourselves, our words and our silences." In her review for Booklist (May 15, 2002) Whitney Scott agreed, applauding the “austere yet sure and evocative poems” that “[create] an oddly engaging mosaic.”
A Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award (2002) and grants in 2003 from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund allowed her to begin researching and writing her next book, and with support from an Iowa Arts Scholarship she enrolled in the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, earning an M.F.A. in 2006. During this time she was also publishing essays in Harper’s, American Poet, and North American Review, among other top-flight literary journals.
Immediately after finishing her studies at Iowa, she was offered a position as Artist in Residence at Northwestern University, where she helped develop a new creative nonfiction curriculum in the undergraduate writing program. Her essays continued to appear in premier literary journals, as well as in The Best Creative Nonfiction (Norton, 2007), The Best American Nonrequired Reading (Houghton Mifflin, 2009), the 2010 Pushcart Prize volume, and other anthologies.
Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays (Graywolf Press, 2009), her second book, was a deeply researched investigation of the history of racial identity in America told through a personal exploration of whiteness. From the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune to NPR and Publishers Weekly, critics were effusive in their praise of her latest work. Notes won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize (2008), received the 2010 Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award, claimed a place on Chicago Time Out’s list of best books of 2009, and garnered the coveted National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism.
During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she will be completing her next book, entitled Quickening: On Medicine, Myth and Metaphor, which she describes as an exploration of the intersection of public health and private decisions in the areas of childbirth, breastfeeding, vaccinations, and plastics.