The nonfiction editors, Rappahannock Review: Lyric writing can be challenging to sustain over several pages. What determined the length of this piece?
Brian Oliu: It most definitely can be! I find myself getting pretty exhausted when I hit the 1200 word mark. This piece is actually an excerpt from a much longer book-length project that is all in the form of a computer virus/MS-DOS prompt, so it forced me to stay in that voice for a much longer period of time than I am accustomed to when working on an individual essay. As a result, this section (or chapter!) is much longer than what I typically write, which is kind of exciting.
RR: Your work really carries a certain kind of rhythm and musicality. Are there any particular bands or genres of music that influence your writing?
BO: I am very much an ‘out loud’ writer–when I write, I imagine myself performing the piece, or, at the very least, speaking it aloud in an empty room. As for music, I am very much in love with pop music & the simplicity of it all: there are really bold statements being made in pop music that seem to be very nonchalant–declarations of love, of not being able to go on, etc. There’s a lot to be inspired by in the small moments of songs that when presented in a different format can be extremely poignant.
RR: The lyric essay stands distinct from the traditional essay in the fluidity of its form. What unique challenges does this pose for you as the essayist?
BO: I think the whole purpose of the essay is to convey information: to craft something that educates the reader, as well as provides a semblance of understanding of where the author is writing from–the space they inhabit, etc. A lyric essay does this as well, but focuses on gaining a visceral reaction from the reader: the goal is to make the reader feel what the author was feeling at this particular time. As a result, I feel as if there are more emotional gambits being made by the author in a lyric essay than perhaps in other types of writing.
RR: What was the impetus for writing “The Princess, The Stranger, and The Suspension of Disbelief”?
BO: As I mentioned before, this piece is from a larger project where I’m taking the voice of a computer virus–the language that computers spit out tend to be incredibly beautiful & lyrical, & it was a chief inspiration for this project. This particular section deals with the idea of falling in love (well, in this case, lust) with various people that you cannot physically be with for a multitude of reasons: either it being distance, or non-reciprocal, or the fact that the person is dying; the idea of longing is here, as well as how dealing with someone solely through the internet or while using technology can over-romanticize feelings that aren’t actually there–that this is something that is constantly shifting.
RR: As a professor at the University of Alabama, how do you negotiate teaching and writing? How has teaching changed your approach to writing, or vice versa?
BO: I think both go hand-in-hand–it’s very important to me when dealing with my students to let them know that we are all in this together: I am also a writer who is trying to get work published just as they are. Just because I am typically further ahead in my career doesn’t mean that we’re not all in the same boat. Also, I try to set a good example to my students as a writer: if I’m not practicing what I’m preaching, I feel as if I am being both dishonest in my teaching but also in my craft. As a result, I feel like teaching holds me accountable in my writing, which is something I am grateful for.


Brian Oliu’s work in Issue 1.4: 

“The Princess, The Stranger, and The Suspension of Disbelief”


Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & has taught at the University of Alabama since receiving his M.F.A. in 2009. His work has been anthologized in Best Creative Nonfiction Volume 2, 30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction, & has been twice selected as a Notable Essay in the Best American Essays series. He is the author of So You Know It’s Me, a collection of Craigslist Missed Connections, & Level End, a series of lyric essays about video game Boss Battles. His newest book, Leave Luck To Heaven, an ode to 8-bit videogames, was released by Uncanny Valley Press.