Textual Transactions and the “Non-Fictional Turn”

deadline for submissions: 
April 10, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies
contact email: 
  • 250-word proposals due April 10, 2019
  • Essays of 2,000-3,000 words due July 1, 2019
  • Publication: Spring 2020

The guest editors of a special issue of Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies seek proposals for essays that address non-fictional forms in relation to multiply mediated concepts of truth and reality.

This special issue builds on the queries initially posited during a special MLA 2019 panel on textual transactions in non-fiction. As such, it proposes to investigate the theme of what we might call “a commerce of textualities” by reading literary/creative/narrative non-fictional works constituted in mixed modes of writing— situated on the one hand at the intersections of journalism, life-writing, history, urban-studies, and archival reconstruction, and on the other, increasingly in the twenty first century, at the crossings of new technologies of smart telecommunication, real-time television programming, and cybernetics.

The theme of the issue will be significantly informed by the interventions of such critics as Rob Nixon, Henry Twidle, Walter Benn Michaels, and Ian Jack, who have each accounted for a late 20th and early 21st century “boom” on the global stage of non-fictional forms of engagement. However, unlike these scholars, the editors of this issue seek to understand not why a particular narrative form emerges at a particular time, but what its effects are in its particular context. What, they ask, do the kinds of textual transactions that constitute the nonfictional turn have to do with what Rob Nixon has called “the cultural industrialization of the real”: who do they speak for, why do they matter, and to whom?

A central concern of this issue is with the ethical and methodological payoffs of investigating the significance of nonfiction in a world that increasingly places a great premium on making shows of reality. This may be mapped by attending to how non-fictional textual transactions have in historically and culturally specific instances attempted to induce and redirect what is constituted as reality. In the face of authoritarian appropriations of reality, nonfictional textualities foreground the crucial idea that reality does not exist outside the regimes for its own production and circulation—and they demonstrate how those regimes may in fact be transformed to constitute a new politics of reality.  


Proposed papers may address, but certainly should not be limited to, the following topics:


  •  the long-standing tradition of colonial/anti-colonial travel writing
  •  the impact of Tom Wolfe and the new journalism (1970s)
  • the significance for investigative journalism of the ‘history from below’ series at the University of Witwatersrand (1980s)
  • the influence of Slavenka Drakulic’s Café Europa (1996) in altering Soviet-era assumptions of the essay as a self-interested form
  • the increasing demand for a dynamics of testimony, globally, in the shadow of the HIV/AIDS crisis
  • the honoring of Svetlana Alexievich’s “polyphonic writings” with the Nobel prize for literature in 2015
  • the emergence of graphic memoirs and graphic reportage (e.g., Joe Sacco, Igort)
  • the significance of epistolary forms and diaries
  • critical methodologies in archival research
  • the emergence of new approaches to Indigenous literary and cultural forms (e.g., the peoplehood matrix)



Please send proposals, including keywords and a brief bio, to Anastasia Ulanowicz (aulanow@ufl.edu).