by Kristin M. Distel
LeMay is Associate Professor of creative writing in OHIO’s English Department. He’s also an Ohio University Honors Tutorial College alum, graduating in 1993 as a Philosophy major.
‘This Essay Surprises Me Every Time I Activate It’
The book, published digitally with Zone 3 Press, provides an interactive experience for readers. Many essays include video and audio elements. LeMay cites the essay titled “drive, he sd” as his personal favorite.
“It is a video/audio Twitter essay that pools Tweets in real time to make a collage of sorts. Every time the essay is triggered, it is collaboratively composed by 15 different authors writing on Twitter from all over the world, and it’s just so charming to see what pops up. There are strange harmonies and echoes that occur across the world. This essay surprises me every time I activate it,” he explains.
Fruitful Questions from Student
LeMay found that the questions his undergraduate and graduate students pose during class helped foster some of the topics he explores in the book.
“When students have an idea for an essay, they often ask ‘Can I do this?’” LeMay says. “They’re asking questions about genre and what the essay can do. Given the tools we have now—on the page and on the screen—how do we stretch readers’ ideas about what essays can accomplish? If we operate under the axiom that there is no fixed sense of genre, what might an essay look like? What forms might it take?” LeMay explains. “These principles helped guide the development of the book.”
Nonsense, Metaphor, and Big Brother
Essays in the collection include contemplation on the origins and purposes of the essay, our ever-evolving lexicon, the role nonsense plays in communication, the uses of metaphor, and many other subjects.
“What it tries to do is celebrate and amplify ideas about the essay. All the essays are thinking about what is possible for this genre,” LeMay says.
Some of the essays, such as “Threat Lexicon,” include elements of found texts, curated and culled to make a larger point about the way in which people’s daily lives and communication are under surveillance by government.
“‘Threat Lexicon’ reconsiders the degraded political words that Orwell warns us to watch for,” LeMay explains. “It asks us to consider those official—and often obfuscating—terms for many of our worst communal fears.”
‘This Collection Allows An Exploratory Approach’
Because of its online format, readers may proceed through the collection in a nonlinear way. LeMay notes that arranging the essays prompted him to consider the differences between the ways in which we consume books and web pages.
“The web is where we are distracted, where we don’t follow a linear narrative. A traditional book still imagines a reader starting at the beginning. This collection allows an exploratory approach. It meets readers on those expected terms,” LeMay notes.
LeMay is also the author of author of Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese (Free Press, 2010), The One in the Many (Zoo Press, 2003), and In Praise of Nothing: Essays, Memoir, and Other Experiments. His work has appeared in The Nation, The Harvard Review, The Paris Review, Gastronomica, Poetry Daily, and the Best Food Writing series.