NFN18: “The Peripatetic Panel”

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Panelists: Ames Hawkins, Mary Cappello, Peta Murray, Francesca Rendle-Short, & Peggy Shinner

Panel Description: An unpanelled panel [that] proposes a new form within the poetics of nonfiction: creative collaboration by promenade. 

As I walked into the room I was handed a small release form that made me a participant of the conference, as well as, a sheet of paper on which was printed an email exchange between the panelists. The room was full of people looking around and wondering what exactly was in store. Five stations spread around the room, each holding a collection of items. The panelists explained their desire to include the audience both in a chorus of cacophonous sound and in movement as a way to queer the nonfiction narrative. Over the course of several months, these women exchanged emails about the meaning of nonfiction, how one can change and experience it. Each of the audience members were given a different page of this exchange. At each station we would all read simultaneously for one minute. Then the panelist would read a section of an essay they had written for the occasion. Afterward the group would move to the next station. This would be repeated twice.

We began at Rendle-Short’s station on which she had lined up little animal figurines and pictures of herself at the ark recreation in Kentucky, as well as, a old copy of the Bible which she had made cut-out poetry. Hawkins spoke of a keychain she had kept for decades, Capello spoke of and displayed paintings by her mother, Murray displayed a cultural show-and-tell of her native Australia, and Shinner, who could not attend the conference in person, recorded her essay and her voice carried from a plastic bag, which referenced her narrative of collecting a loved one’s things after their passing.

Members of the audience were at times confused and unsure where to go and what to do. Kitchen egg timers went off constantly at times they were not supposed to. However, by the end of the first circuit there was a community feeling to the room. We were connected through sound, through these stories, and through our movement. In the Q & A at the end, Lance Larsen asked how this experience would be translated to the page. The women looked at each other and Capello said that their intention wasn’t for the page. It was for a new experience.

As part of the Digital Writers Festival held in Australia at the same time as NonfictioNOW, the panel recorded the session and is posted at  The email transcript is also there to read if you would like to recreate the experience at home.


Sarah Belliston is a first-year MFA student at Brigham Young University. She lives in Utah with her husband, their two special needs children, her mother, and a cranky old dog. Her work has appeared in bioStories.

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