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A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel [Hardcover]

by Robin Hemley
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1, 2012 9780820338507 978-0820338507
For centuries writers have used participatory experience as a lens through which to better see the world at large and as a means of exploring the self. Considering various types of participatory writing as different strains of one style—immersion writing—Robin Hemley offers new perspectives and practical advice for writers of this nonfiction genre.

Immersion writing can be broken down into the broad categories of travel writing, immersion memoir, and immersion journalism. Using the work of such authors as Barbara Ehrenreich, Hunter S. Thompson, Ted Conover, A. J. Jacobs, Nellie Bly, Julio Cortazar, and James Agee, Hemley examines these three major types of immersion writing and further identifies the subcategories of the quest, the experiment, the investigation, the infiltration, and the reenactment. Included in the book are helpful exercises, models for immersion writing, and a chapter on one of the most fraught subjects for nonfiction writers—the ethics and legalities of writing about other people.

A Field Guide for Immersion Writing recalibrates and redefines the way writers approach their relationship to their subjects. Suitable for beginners and advanced writers, the book provides an enlightening, provocative, and often amusing look at the ways in which nonfiction writers engage with the world around them.

A Friends Fund Publication.

Editorial Reviews


“Hemley constructs a vocabulary and taxonomy for the immersion genre and makes a compelling argument for why these books matter, beyond the gimmickry, and why these stories hit home.” —Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire

A Field Guide for Immersion Writing is indispensable. In it, Robin Hemley is very funny but serious all the while. He explains and defines and prompts and reports with great clarity, teaching and informing and urging as he entertains. The quotations and examples from accomplished writers are generous and just plain great, many of them from essays and articles and books I’ve missed, with lessons in the most unexpected places. ‘A good book is always about more than one thing,’ Robin says, and the Field Guide is a book about life as much as it’s about writing. I mean, it’s that important, whether you plan to write or not.”—Bill Roorbach, author of Writing Life Stories and Contemporary Creative Nonfiction

“This ‘field guide’ is exactly that: lessons for writers wishing to practice these forms. It brings principles of ethnographic methodologies into focus for writers not schooled in introductory anthropology. It is also an entertaining survey of contemporary writing. Hemley’s categorical approach serves to highlight similarities and (sometimes subtle) differences among these forms and the practices that create them.”—Choice

"Robin Hemley has written an excellent book on immersion writing. . . . He writes with humour and passion and injects himself into the prose, thus making for a great example of what he is describing. . . . There are many writing books and sometimes it is difficult to know which, if any, are useful. This one is because it has a different focus, gives numerous fine examples and is written with verve and wit."—Sue Bond, M/C Reviews

About the Author

Robin Hemley is a professor of English at the University of Iowa and director of the Nonfiction Writing Program. He is author or editor of eight books including Do-Over! and Turning Life into Fiction and is editor of the magazine Defunct.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press (March 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780820338507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820338507
  • ASIN: 0820338508
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,484,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
If you're thinking about writing nonfiction, venturing into the middle of a real story, you might be wondering what this will entail. I did a while ago, and have just learnt after reading Robin Hemley's book that I've been lost in strange and surreal world of immersion writing for the last few years. My advice is read Hemley's entertaining guide before you `immerse', because you're in for a ride.

`Immersion isn't for the faint hearted,' he warns. `Whether you're putting yourself in harms way emotionally, psychologically, or physically, it's almost a guarantee you're going to get pummeled in one way or another'. Hemley's voice is perfectly pitched to help you shoulder that pummeling, to whisper encouragement and appeal to your humour while he explains in detail, with lots of references to his and other writers' experiences, what the hell is going on.

`If you knew what was going to happen in the end, there would be no point starting', he says, and this is what I really love about the adventurous spirit of this book. From finding what your real story is to the ethical and legal considerations of writing about others, Hemley's field guide to immersion is designed to lure you from the comfort of your desk and free you up as a writer.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Throughout A Field Guide for Immersion Writing, Robin Hemley's voice is warm and knowing like old-time jazz. Playful, too. "The country of yourself," he writes, "can be explored as fruitfully as any country outside yourself. There's always some place you're going in your writing, some destination of which you had no idea when you started."

Whether your journey takes you inward or abroad, you'll likely encounter pitfalls, which may include prose blobs, an orphaned book or kidnapping at gunpoint. But don't panic! Instead calmly open Hemley's Field Guide and consult. He's been there, done that. He's here for you now.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Nuts & Bolts of Immersion Technique Writing May 3, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Robin Hemley is fantastic at making the overwhelming seem quite approachable. I've relied heavily on several of his previous books that deal with memoir writing and regularly recommended them in the writing workshops I teach. Immersion is a refreshing change to more conventional approaches to writing memoir and more fun than a linear story line. It's a means of writing material viewed from a new perspective - whether fiction, non-fiction or memoir while simultaneously enriching the writer's experiences. All make for refreshing writing and better reading!. I've considered using Hemley's techniques in my own work but until reading A Field Guide for Immersion Writing, couldn't decide how to begin. Now, I see an immersion possibility every where I turn. I've just included it in the new version of my free downloadable Marlene's Reference Bibliography for Writers that I posted on the [...] Ahh, if only it had been available for me to read sooner. Definitely worth every penny!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memoir, Travel Writing & Journal Writing November 2, 2012
Hemley's whole thing in the Field Guide to Immersion Writing is that writing is "shaping and creating a story happening in the present while unabashedly lugging along the baggage that makes up the writer's personality: his or her memories, culture and opinions". Instead of writing about YOU you should be writing about "it and how you are reacting to it. So it rather flips the equation around -- you are in a place and you write about the place always taking in everything and thinking and comparing it to what you already know. This is what Papa Hemingway did so well in his many novels including Snows of Kilimanjaro, the Moveable Feast and it's great that Hemley has captured that so well.

I found that the chapter on travel writing really shone. Hemley discusses his theory of "immersion writing" via a debut party for a relative in the Philippines which captures the milieu, people, place and culture excellently. He really shows in this one piece what he means by "immersion writing" which is really more about what & why we write rather than HOW to write it. Highly recommended.
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