“Nonfiction has been at the center of my life,” says Carl Klaus in this On the Fly interview recorded in 2014, “and that’s been immensely satisfying except for the fact that I hate the word. It seems such a strange and negative to talk about such a spacious and wonderful thing.”
For his part, Klaus has been nothing but a positive force for nonfiction. He came to the University of Iowa in 1962 and spent 35 years teaching nonfiction writing. In the mid-1980s, he found the university’s Nonfiction Writing Program. Since his retirement in 1997, he has co-edited (with Patricia Hampl) Sightline Books: The Iowa Series in Literary Nonfiction published by University of Iowa Press. He is the author or coauthor of a number of nonfiction works, the most recent of which is 2013’s A Self Made of Words: Crafting a Distinctive Persona in Nonfiction Writing. His work in progress as of this writing is entitled Aging: An Octogenarian’s Chronicle.
In the interview, Klaus considers the role of memory and the overlap between fiction and nonfiction; the desire of readers and students to learn the “secret” of the writing process; the ways in which “adverbs can poison a piece of prose” (and can sneak into his own work); and the shifting nature of personas and his belief “that there is no single voice that defines anyone.”
He speaks of his influences and the need to “unlearn” much of what he’d learned about writing in order to find his own voice, as well as of the “descent of the muse” that has been the hallmark of each of his writing projects.