George Estreich’s publications include a book of poems, Textbook Illustrations of the Human Body, which won the Gorsline Prize from Cloudbank Books (2003); the Oregon Book Award-winning memoir The Shape of the Eye (2011); and Fables and Futures: Biotechnology, Disability, and the Stories we Tell Ourselves (2019), which NPR’s Science Friday named a Best Science Book of 2019. He’s also the co-editor, with Rachel Adams, of Alison Piepmeier’s posthumously published book, Unexpected: Parenting, Prenatal Testing, and Down Syndrome (NYU, 2021). Estreich has published prose in The New York Times, Salon, The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, Tin House, Essay Daily, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon, where he teaches in the MFA program at Oregon State University. More: georgeestreich.com
1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?
A genetically engineered hybrid of David Mitchell and Bashō. Even if this experiment were feasible, I would oppose it as a matter of ethics and policy; but since we’re dealing in hypotheticals, I would love to splice together Mitchell’s wild humor and Bashō’s resigned clarity, Mitchell’s scope and Bashō’s compression, the sweep of centuries-spanning fictional narratives and the crystalline depths of a seventeen-syllable poem. I can’t do any of that, though, so I am currently drafting a medium-length essay about a compost pile.
2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
Probably this essay about my daughter. I’m increasingly interested in writing that contemplates its own moves and ethical choices; in the essay, I wrote about Laura, while considering what it meant to write publicly about a child with a disability. This kind of move can occur in fiction and poetry, but I see it as central to the essay.
3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?
Ed Hardy, a fiction writer and a friend since MFA days, who always sees what’s working, if anything is. My wife Theresa, a scientist, whose observations are always clear-eyed and clear. And, of my many guides in the specialized subjects where I trespass, the historian of science & medicine Nathaniel Comfort, whose erudition and writing I admire.
4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
“Make every song you sing your favorite tune.” This was from Charles Wright, in an undergraduate poetry workshop. He was quoting Mick Jagger.
5. What’s your go to recommendation to read when somebody says “I’m not sure about this whole nonfiction thing?” Why? What do you hope it shows them? What about it excites you?
I haven’t been outside much lately, so no one has said this to me. But if they did, I would point them to Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, which is brilliant, accessible, readable, and a master class in the short essay.
The best writing doesn’t fit my existing tastes; it rewrites them. It makes me question what I think I think, my narrative of self to self, the preferences I think I have. So for me, Gay’s essays are disruptive in the best way, because they do not deny melancholy so much as decenter it. They question the assumption I bought into as an undergraduate and probably never fully let go of, that happiness is simple and therefore boring, and that melancholy, along with its whole sorry family tree (grief, depression, the whole DSM-adjacent nine yards) is endlessly complex and interesting. They show that delight can be as simple and complex as sorrow.