John D'Agata

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John D'Agata
John D'Agata.jpg
Born 1975
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Genre essay non-fiction
Notable works "The Lost Origins of the Essay", "The Next American Essay," "The Making of the American Essay," The Lifespan of a Fact, "Halls of Fame," and "About a Mountain"

John D’Agata (born 1975 on Cape Cod, Massachusetts) is an American essayist. He is the author of six books of nonfiction, including The Next American Essay[1] (2003), The Lost Origins of the Essay[2] (2009) and The Making of the American Essay[3]—all part of the trilogy of essay anthologies called "A New History of the Essay." He also wrote The Lifespan of a Fact, "Halls of Fame," and "About a Mountain."

He's the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship,[4] the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship,[5] and the Lannan Foundation Fellowship.[6] He is the founder of The Essay Prize[7] and the Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program[8] at the University of Iowa.

Personal life[edit]

After growing up in Boston and on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, D’Agata attended the liberal preparatory school Northfield Mount Hermon on a scholarship. In 1995 he enrolled in Deep Springs College, an experimental all-male school in the desert of eastern California, and later graduated from Hobart College[9] with a bachelor's degree in classics and English literature.

In 1998 D’Agata moved to Iowa City, where he went on to complete his MFA in poetry at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and then an additional MFA in nonfiction at the University’s Nonfiction Writing Program.[10] He subsequently taught writing and research at a number of different schools, including Colgate University, Columbia University, and the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, before returning to the University of Iowa in 2006, where he now directs the Nonfiction Writing Program.

Professional life[edit]

D’Agata is the editor of a 3-volume series on the history of the essay, entitled A New History of the Essay. It is made up of the volumes The Next American Essay[11] (2003), The Lost Origins of the Essay[12] (2009) and The Making of the American Essay[13] (2016) for which the critic James Wood provided a foreword in which he writes:

For well over a decade now, John D’Agata has been the renovator-in-chief of the American essay. As practitioner and theorist, writer and anthologist, as example and the enabler of examples, D’Agata has refused to yield to the idea of non-fiction as stable, fixed, already formed. . . . Instead, he has pushed the essay to yield more of itself, to find within itself an enactment of its own etymology—an essaying, a trying, a perpetual attempt at something (after the French verb essayer, to try). He has emphasized that the essay should make, and not merely take; that it should gamble with the fictive and not just trade in the real; that it should entertain uncertainty as often as it hosts opinion; that the essay can be as lyrical, as fragmented, as self-interrupting, and as self-conscious as the most experimental fiction or verse.

D’Agata is also the author of Halls of Fame[14] is a collection of experimental nonfiction about which David Foster Wallace wrote that "In nothing else recent is the compresence of shit and light that is America so vividly felt and evoked," calling D'Agata "one of the most significant U.S. writers to emerge in the past few years."[15] About a Mountain[16] is a book-length rumination on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The New York Times Book Review called the book "a breathtaking piece of writing" and listed it among the 100 best nonfiction books ever written.[17]

Called by NPR "the most improbably entertaining book ever written,"[18] The Lifespan of a Fact[19] is a retrospectively reconstructed and embellished exchange between D'Agata and his one-time fact-checker, Jim Fingal.[20] The book illustrates their heated seven-year battle over a single essay by D'Agata that was ultimately published in The Believer magazine. In the book, D'Agata and Fingal discuss whether it is appropriate to change facts in writing that is both nonfiction and art.


In an article titled "In Defense of Facts" - William Deresiewicz[21] writes:

John D'Agata has accomplished an impressive feat. In three thick volumes, over 13 years, he has published a series of anthologies...that misrepresents what the essay is and does, that falsifies its history, and that contains, among its numerous selections, very little one would reasonably classify within the genre.


But the word for such a writer isn't essayist. It's liar.


  • Halls of Fame (Graywolf Press, 2001)
  • The Next American Essay (Graywolf Press, 2003)
  • The Lost Origins of the Essay (Graywolf Press, 2009)
  • About a Mountain (W.W. Norton, 2010)
  • The Lifespan of a Fact (with Jim Fingal) (W.W. Norton, 2012)
  • The Making of the American Essay (Graywolf Press, 2016)


  1. ^ "The Next American Essay | Graywolf Press". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  2. ^ "The Lost Origins of the Essay | Graywolf Press". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | John-Philip D' Agata". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  5. ^ "D'Agata receives National Endowment for the Arts fellowship". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  6. ^ Diaz, Alex. "John D'Agata - Lannan Foundation". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  7. ^ " | Celebrating the Art of Essaying". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  8. ^ "MFA in Nonfiction Writing | Department of English | College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | The University of Iowa". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  9. ^ "The Days of Yore". The Days of Yore. Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  10. ^ "MFA in Nonfiction Writing | Department of English | College of Liberal Arts & Sciences | The University of Iowa". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  11. ^ "The Next American Essay | Graywolf Press". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  12. ^ "The Lost Origins of the Essay | Graywolf Press". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Halls of Fame | Graywolf Press". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  15. ^ "David Foster Wallace and "Blurbspeak" - The Los Angeles Review...". The Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  16. ^ "About a Mountain | W. W. Norton & Company". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  17. ^ "As if You Don't Have Enough to Read". The 6th Floor Blog. Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  18. ^ Gregory, Alice. "'Lifespan Of A Fact': Truth And Consequences". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  19. ^ "The Lifespan of a Fact | W. W. Norton & Company". Retrieved 2015-11-22. 
  20. ^ Dzieza, Josh (2012-02-21). "John D'Agata's Fact-Checking Battle". The Daily Beast. p. "That disclaimer was necessary because Lifespan is not Fingal and D’Agata’s actual correspondence. Far from it. 'We absolutely re-created an argument that didn’t really take place the way it’s described,' says D’Agata.". Retrieved 2017-02-05. 
  21. ^ In Defense of Facts

External links[edit]