Writers often evoke the famous que sais-je
(“What do I know?”) of Michel de Montaigne, father of the literary essay. Montaigne was known for his deeply exploratory writing about the many overlapping and often conflicting aspects of selfhood. His Essais
in the 16th century laid the foundation for the genre by focusing on questions—some ephemeral, some perennial—about things such as disability, death, education, friendship, religion, and thumbs.
Today, essayists continue to write from this ancient tradition, but for a new century. The big topics in today’s discourse about who we are include questions about gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity, citizenship, political affiliation, and more. Enter the inimitable Melissa Faliveno.
In her debut essay collection, Tomboyland: Essays
(Topple Books & Little A), author Melissa Faliveno
examines a vast array of intersecting (and intersectional!) human experiences. These thoughtful essays explore Faliveno’s relationship to scores of personal identities, including her midwestern roots, an obsession with tornados, the complexities of her gender presentation, a competitive roller derby spirit, an inclination toward kink and BDSM, an ambivalence about motherhood, and so, so much more, all coalescing to construct one cohesive portrait of self.
Faliveno’s bold and often beautiful writing embodies the ways all of us make meaning of our lives, and develop an understanding of ourselves in the world around us.
Zoë Bossiere is a doctoral student at Ohio University, where she studies creative nonfiction and teaches writing classes. For more NBN interviews, follow her on Twitter @zoebossiere or head to zoebossiere.com