Creighton Brown (he/him) serves as contributing and social media editor at Assay and as student experience manager in the Center for Community and Civic Engagement at Carleton College. He lives, writes, and dog walks in Northfield, MN, the traditional lands of the Wahpekute.
1. What writer do you want to be when you grow up?
When I grow up, I want to write like Sarah Vowell. Her well-researched, accessible, and comedic travel writing is something I love to read on my own, but also I’ve loved sharing with students in travel writing as literature courses. My favorite of her texts to teach is Unfamiliar Fishes (2011), which explores American imperialism and Manifest Destiny in the context of the colonization of Hawaii. I admire Vowell’s ability to make keen, sharp historical and political observations in one sentence and then crack a joke at Puritans’ expense in the next. Of Vowell’s other work, I love Take the Cannoli (2000) Assassination Vacation (2005), The Wordy Shipmates (2008), and Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015). Vowell’s books feel like edu-tainment in the best way. And I hope to write like her someday.
2. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
My favorite thing that I have written is “The Hunger: The Power and Politics of a (Post)Colonial Cannibal.” (My apologies, I loved alliteration in my early twenties.) In this essay, I explored eight pages featuring prison escape and cannibalism not for survival, but colonial bloodlust in Marcus Clarke’s massive Victorian novel For the Term of His Natural Life (1870-2). While making every conceivable and (in)appropriate Silence of the Lambs and Fried Green Tomatoes joke (and even a Frida quip—“Did he eat it? Did he like it?”), I argued that escaped convicts cannibalizing each other in the Australian bush represented both European anxieties of the other and the imperial project itself—the absorption and extraction of people and resources from the land. Some of these people are entombed in the British Museum, or in the case of Clarke’s novel, they are preserved in the digestive tract of the story’s Big Bad. I drew on Yann Mattel’s Life of Pi (2001) to frame my discussion of cannibalism (spoiler alerted too late) and as a counter narrative to European imperial extraction. I had a lot of fun writing this particular essay as part of my M.A. thesis and enjoyed the macabre humor and support of friend and fellow Assay contributing editor Heidi Czerwiec. Thanks, Heidi!
3. Who do you trust with your drafts and why?
My doctoral program was a nightmare, so at the moment, my writing is just for me, my dog, and sometimes Twitter. With time, I hope this will change.
4. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
As a queer person, who learned to make himself and his writing small for the comfort of the straights, it’s okay that my writing reads as confident. And it’s okay to take up discursive space. I learned this lesson from friend and former Assay managing editor Renée D’Aousta. Thanks, Renée!
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?
Depending on the person, I might suggest Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis (2000) because I love graphic memoirs and I believe we’re in a golden age of graphic nonfiction. Graphic nonfiction can be an easy access point to nonfiction generally with its familiar feel to comic books and often terse storytelling. Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer (2019) is another solid graphic memoir exploring gender identity. For me, graphic nonfiction as a form opens up space for creative storytelling and makes room for more diverse voices and experiences. Indeed, I’m currently reading David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson’s The Black Panther Party: A Graphic History (2021).
Again, depending on the person, I also might recommend Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s Diarios de motocicleta (1995) for exploring social justice and the romance of road trips with friends. I absolutely love contemporary travel writing and have found my students gravitate more toward this genre than other nonfiction forms. Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Machu Picchu (2011) is another solid travel narrative blending humor and colonial history akin to Vowell, but with Adams’ specific disposition. Travel writing has moved away from being a tool of colonization—cataloging the flora and fauna and human beings of “new” lands—and become a genre of (post/settler-)colonial critique, much like Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place (1988), which bends the form to accommodate indigenous gazes and experiences over the traditional white gaze and exoticism of the other.
Creighton Nicholas Brown, “Educational Archipelago: Alternative Knowledges and the Production of Docile Bodies in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place and Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis,” Assay 3.2
Creighton Nicholas Brown, ““On Common Books, Civic Engagement, and Claudia Rankine’s ‘Citizen,’” October 9, 2017
Creighton Nicholas Brown, “Jamaica Kincaid’s “A Small Place,” April 11, 2016