Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Contributor Spotlight on Matthew Gavin Frank

by Dan Froid

It’s well-known by now that Margaret Atwood rejected science fiction as a label for her work—science fiction, she noted, was about giant squids in space. Admittedly, she’s clarified and developed her statements on science fiction and genre labels since then; the gist is that labels too frequently become reductive selling-points, ignoring the complexity and range of writers’ bodies of work. This issue of labels is also pertinent for Matthew Gavin Frank. Frank has written several volumes of nonfiction, ranging from Barolo (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), a memoir in which he recounts his illegal work in the Italian wine industry, to Pot Farm (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), which details his work at a medical marijuana farm in California.

In fact, Frank has also written a book about giant squids—not the infamous science-fiction kind, however. Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer (Liveright/Norton, 2014), a book-length lyric essay, centers on Moses Harvey, the titular photographer, while weaving in science, memoir, and myth, among other subjects. Ryan Teitman’s review in the Los Angeles Review of Books notes that the “details build on each other, like the layers of color in an Impressionist painting. But Frank isn’t just using his prose for description and texture in the narrative; it’s for lyric pacing and orchestration, too.” Preparing the Ghost is, like much of Frank’s work, difficult to label, wide-ranging, and lovely. Get a taste of Frank’s writing on squids with “Wave Your Arms Like This! The Squid and the Summer of ‘95”, an essay describing how he first became interested in the topic.

For more from Frank, read “The Beginning of the End of Hummingbird Cake,” an essay that juxtaposes the unusual confection of the title with a sobering discussion of waste, from the fall 2013 issue of Prairie Schooner. And in this interview at The Nervous Breakdown, Frank discusses Preparing the Ghost, Michigan winters, and his next project. He maintains an active website, with recent events, media, and a blog, featuring the series “In Search of the Giant Squid in All the Wrong Waters.” Frank is also on Twitter, where he tweets about his current activity, fellow writers, and, of course, squids.