On Monday, September 10, freshman reading book author Eula Biss spoke to students in a private discussion session hosted by the Congress of the South 40. Academic Chair Kelly Tsao was responsible for the programming and coordination of the event, which centered around Biss’ book, “Notes From No Man’s Land.” The event was held in Ursa’s Stageside from 3:30-4:30PM. Students who had read the book and were interested in meeting its author could be nominated to attend the private discussion session. Individuals were nominated by their RAs, who attended the original small discussion sessions with them at the start of the year. Professors and deans were also welcome to attend, and in total there were about twenty people included in the discussion.
For the first half hour of the event, Biss told attendees of her writing process and how she came to publish her collection of essays. She explained that many of the essays included in the book were not originally written with the intention of being published as a collection. Instead, Biss says she was more focused on writing about her life and the current places she was living. It was not until later on when someone suggested that she assemble a collection of essays that she began to consider what her unifying theme might be. After starting with much too general of topics, Biss finally narrowed the theme down to that of the American dream and racism. In total, she said that her book took about seven years from start to finish.
After Biss’ explanation, students and staff were welcome to ask her any questions they wished. Many inquired about her essay “All Apologies,” in which she says that the biggest apology individuals owe is the one to their parents. The essay also apologizes for slavery on behalf of the entire United States, an apology that Biss recognized to be very controversial. Students asked what it took to make a serious, effective apology, and whether it was possible to truly apologize for a historical event that hurt so many thousands of people. Others asked Biss how she came to feel so comfortable with the African American community and with speaking so openly about race and racism.
After the event, Biss posed for pictures and signed students’ books. For her parting words, she encouraged attendees to express their true feelings when talking about race, explaining that Americans are often fail to do so out of fear that they will be criticized by others.