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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 1, 2010

New Carl Klaus essays-on-essays collection is available from the UI Press

"The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay," by University of Iowa Professor Emeritus Carl H. Klaus, the founding director of the Nonfiction Writing Program, is now available from the UI Press.

The book is intended for both readers and writers of the personal essay, an increasingly popular literary form that has a long history.

The human presence that animates the personal essay is surely one of the most beguiling of literary phenomena, for it comes across in so familiar a voice that it’s easy to believe we are listening to the author rather than a textual stand-in. But the “person” in a personal essay is always a written construct, a fabricated character, its confessions and reminiscences as rehearsed as those of any novelist. In this first book-length study of the personal essay, Klaus unpacks this made-up self and the manifold ways in which a wide range of essayists and essays have brought it to life.

By reconceiving the most fundamental aspect of the personal essay —- the "I" of the essayist —- Klaus demonstrates that this seemingly uncontrived form of writing is inherently problematic, not willfully devious but bordering upon the world of fiction. He develops this key idea by explaining how structure, style and voice determine the nature of a persona and our perception of it in the works of essayists including Michel de Montaigne, Charles Lamb, E. B. White and Virginia Woolf.

He explores the effects of culture and personal experience on the point of view, content and voice of George Orwell, Nancy Mairs, Richard Rodriguez and Alice Walker. Throughout, he calls up numerous passages in which essayists themselves acknowledge the element of impersonation in their work, drawing upon the perspectives of Joan Didion, Edward Hoagland, Joyce Carol Oates, Leslie Marmon Silko, Scott Russell Sanders, Annie Dillard, Vivian Gornick, Loren Eiseley, James Baldwin and a host of other literary guides.

Prominent critic and creative nonfiction writer Phillip Lopate called the book, “As stimulating a discussion of the personal essay as I have ever encountered. With the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime of practicing and teaching the form, Klaus thoughtfully probes and generously upends his own and everyone else's pieties. We are deeply in his debt.”

David Shields, author of "Reality Hunger: A Manifesto" called it, “Quite simply, Carl Klaus’s magnum opus: the book he has spent his entire writing life building toward: a persuasive and even moving summing up of everything he knows about the essay, especially the protean, inherently problematizing, stylized nature of the form. An extremely valuable correction to any misconception of ‘nonfiction as truth.’”

Klaus, coeditor of Sightline Books: The Iowa Series in Literary Nonfiction, is a diarist, essayist and author or coauthor of several textbooks on writing. His nonfiction includes "My Vegetable Love" and its companion, "Weathering Winter," as well as "Taking Retirement: A Beginner’s Diary" and "Letters to Kate: Life after Life."

The book is available at bookstores or directly from the press, 800-621-2736 or Customers in Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from Eurospan Group at It is also available as a pdf e-book:

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STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

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