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Eula Biss

Artist in Residence

Biography

Eula Biss is the author of four books, most recently Having and Being Had, which Cathy Park Hong calls “a revelatory and necessary primer on how late capitalism affects our daily lives.” Biss holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa and has been teaching writing at Northwestern for fifteen years. Her book On Immunity was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review and Notes from No Man’s Land won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 2009. Her work has been translated into over ten languages and has been recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship, a Howard Foundation Fellowship, a Rona Jaffe Writers’ Award, a 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library, and a Pushcart Prize. Her essays and poems have recently appeared in the New Yorker, the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, The Believer, Harper’s, and the New York Times Magazine.

Biss’s books have been selected for common reads at Trinity University, Washington University, Seattle University, the University of Kansas, the University of Cincinnati, and Western Michigan School of Medicine, among others. She has taught workshops as a visiting writer at MFA programs across the country and has given readings and lectures at institutions including Duke University, Emory University, Sarah Lawrence College, Boston College, Bennington College, Columbia School of the Arts, Columbia University Medical Center, and Georgetown University. 

“Eula Biss is something of a specialist at handling our twitchiest, most combustible metaphors,” Parul Sehgal writes in the New York Times Book Review. Biss has a longtime interest in the artistic possibilities of politically charged material. Drawing on both poetry and essay, her work often resists conventional genre classifications. Her first book The Balloonists (2002) was written in prose, published as poetry, and reviewed as both fiction and memoir. A feminist meditation on love and the limits of romance, The Balloonists is a refusal of marriage and a rejection of received narratives. The poet Martín Espada called this work “a most impressive debut” and The Believer praised it as “aesthetically risky.” With this book, Biss put herself in conversation with contemporary genre-resistors such as Anne Carson, Hilton Als, Maggie Nelson, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Nathalie Léger, John Keene, Jenny Offill, and Claudia Rankine.

Biss’s second book Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays (2009) is a personal exploration of whiteness and racial oppression in the United States. As Biss moves across the country from New York to California to the Midwest, her essays move across time from Jim Crow lynchings to post-war white flight to contemporary gentrification. Notes from No Man’s Land won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism and Salon called it “the most accomplished book of essays anyone has written or published so far in the 21st Century.”

Biss’s third book On Immunity: An Inoculation (2014) is a wide-ranging investigation of the myths and metaphors surrounding vaccination. This long essay contains thirty sections that are each distinct — including moments of memoir, criticism, historical overview, reportage, ars poetica, and metaphorical analysis — but that all depend on each other for meaning. The form of the book mirrors its central argument that our bodies are interconnected and interdependent. On Immunity was a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism. It was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2014 by the New York Times Book Review, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher’s Weekly, Time Out New York, and Newsday.

Biss’s most recent book Having and Being Had (2020) is composed of nearly one-hundred titled works that combine the density of poetry with the frank intimacy of a diary. This book explores the value system behind property ownership and the terms we use to understand, or misunderstand, our relationship to money and class. “Having and Being Had, rather than leading through narrative, turns individual words and phrases, like capitalism, consumers, great America, husbandry, art, and work, into fields of inquiry in order to frame a life,” writes Claudia Rankine, who calls the book, “a major achievement.”

Having and Being Had is part of a two-book project. Biss’s next book, tentatively titled Ownership, will be a collection of essays exploring the history and politics of property and land ownership around the world, from the English countryside to South Africa.


Areas of Teaching and Research

Contemporary Essay, Memoir as Art and Argument

Specializations

Science & Literature, Creative Writing

Books

Having and Being Had
Having and Being Had  (Riverhead Books , 2020)
On Immunity: An Inoculation
On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press, 2014)
The Balloonists
The Balloonists (Hanging Loose Press, 2002)


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