Tuesday, November 10, 2020

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Writing University has continued with our series of interviews - the "5Q Interviews" - with writers that participate in the various University of Iowa writing programs and communities. We check in with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home. The University of Iowa Press, with the Writing University, is reaching out to its authors to gain perspective and connection through these interviews. We want to know how they are doing, first and foremost: we are primarily checking in. We are a family here -- the press, the authors, the university -- and this is what families do: we check in.

Today we are speaking with Jennifer Burek Pierce, author of Narratives, Nerdfighters, and New Media from the University of Iowa Press


Jennifer Burek Pierce

Jennifer Burek Pierce is associate professor in the School of Library and Information Science at The University of Iowa, where she has a joint appointment with the Center for the Book.   She has won research fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society; Winterthur Museum, Library, and Gardens; and the De Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.  She has published essays with The Paris Review Daily and The Chronicle of Higher Education, and most recently, Narratives, Nerdfighters, and New Media with the University of Iowa Press.

1. Could you tell us a bit about your new book?

At root, Narratives, Nerdfighters, and New Media is about how reading and social media use are entwined.  I'm writing about how communities of readers come together online, about how people express their love of stories in cyberspace and real world places alike.  I am swept away, over and over, by what Nerdfighters have to say about books and reading.   

I look at Nerdfighteria -- the people who watch Vlogbrothers videos and read novels by John Green, and his brother Hank -- as a community of readers.  It's both an exploration of this collegial, story-centered community and an argument that reading remains vital amid the prevalence of social media, rather than being threatened by it.  My book documents all sorts of evidence -- graffiti on the bench where the movie version of John's The Fault in Our Stars was filmed, survey responses, video testimonials -- of passionate, contemporary reading.

People love both books and YouTube ... or podcasts, or even Twitter.  They use social media to share their excitement about stories, using the interactive nature of these places to connect with others with the same interests and values.  I'm using the word place intentionally here -- intersections between books, the physical world, and virtual spaces all happen because of the way people read today, and much like people who live in proximity in the real world form communities, it happens online, too.

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

My day starts with coffee and the cat circus,* often around 5 a.m.  In between brewing cups of coffee and feeding the beasties, I write.  I journal, I reply to emails, I draft and revise essays or a book in progress.  If I'm lucky, I can extend this writing time into the morning or return to it later in the day.  Writing is the foundation of my day.  

There's a mantra that insists you should write every day.  Part of what this does, I think, is immerses you in the ideas and information that you write about.  It makes writing central and centers your mind in it.

*Feed cats.  Medicate asthmatic cat.  Keep younger cat from eating older cat's food, which he's allergic to.  Throw cat toys.  Rinse.  Repeat til birdsong begins.

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

Years ago, I acquired a copy of Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography at the Haunted Bookshop, and I'm finally getting around to reading it.  It's a history of the city, a look at how its past echoes in its present.  Since it's fall, I'm teaching Resources for Children, which means going through piles of children's books, including some by Iowa authors like Michelle Edwards, Sarah Prineas, and Sarvinder Naberhaus.  (If you haven't read Naberhaus's Blue Sky, White Stars, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, you really should -- it's this lovely and powerful testimonial to the ways that inclusion and tradition go hand in hand.)  And given the recent vogue for all things mid-century modern, I'm reading everything I can get my hands on about mid-century libraries.  Spoiler alert for my next project:  It's an era that begins of so much that we see in libraries today, whether computers or events that bring authors in to meet with young readers.    

4. Tell us about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

As an Air Force brat, I'm from everywhere and nowhere.  My childhood played out in the redwood forests of California, the Oregon coast, Iceland, and other western places.  Given my peripatetic past, it's kind of funny to find myself settled in a small Midwestern town.  It's almost like I now live in one of the places I read about in books when I was a child, like Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins and Beezus and Ramona, where families have been there for ages and everyone knows each other.  A walkable world, one where you watch the same flowers bloom and the same trees turn, instead of such great removes.

5) Do you have a writing prompts you could share to inspire us?

I have a whole book of prompts and research tips for writers, coauthored with UIowa alums Riley Hanick and Micah Bateman, Mapping the Imaginary (ALA Editions, 2019).  Rather more briefly, I recently heard someone -- and I cannot recall who -- argue that thinking about what to say is not nearly as important as figuring out to whom you're saying it.  This, I think, is brilliant.  It is apt to so many writing situations:  Who is the audience for these words?  Who are you in conversation with?  It really can spark your writing.  


Thank you Jennifer!