John D'Agata

Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program

In 1998 I graduated from the University of Iowa with MFAs in both poetry and nonfiction, and then in 2005 I returned to Iowa to join the faculty of The Nonfiction Writing Program. Since arriving, I have developed the program’s four core graduate courses: “History of the Essay,” “The Essay Prize,” “Performance and Profession,” and “Thesis Workshop.” I’ve also helped revamp each of the program's undergraduate courses, developed several summer internships in publishing for undergrads, chaperoned trips to NYC to introduce Iowa students to the world of publishing, and founded the English Department’s semi-annual creative writing trip abroad entitled “The Land of the Muses,” which brings writing students to Greece for ten days during the Winter Break.  

Essays are what really excite me—even the stuff that’s not clearly essayistic—and my goal is to share that excitement with all of my students, helping them to explore the genre’s every crevice so that they can discover new forms of expression inspired by the essay’s deep history, its surprisingly experimental tendencies, and the awesome possibilities for its future. I believe it’s our most diverse literary form, and to that end I believe it needs as many varied voices as possible to contribute to it. 

That starts by being committed to creating equitable, inspiring, and challenging experiences for all students in my classrooms. As part of that commitment, I participate in the Building University of Iowa Leadership for Diversity program (BUILD), through which I am working toward both a BUILD certificate and LGBTQ Safe Zone allyship. Some other training I’ve received includes “Reimagining Graduate Education” through Liberating Structures, “Power, Privilege, and Leadership” through the City of Iowa City, the 7-part "Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for All" workshop series, the “21-Day Racial Equity Challenge” with Dr. Eddie Moore Jr, “Violent Incident Survival Training” through the University of Iowa’s Department of Safety, and multiple courses on combating sexual harassment in the workplace, the classroom, and life. 

My books include Halls of Fame, About a Mountain, and The Lifespan of a Fact, which was adapted into a Broadway play starring Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale, and has since been produced more than two dozen times around the world. I am also the editor of the 3-volume series A New History of the Essay, which includes the anthologies The Next American Essay, The Making of the American Essay, and The Lost Origins of the Essay. My new writing projects include a translation from ancient Greek, a meditation on mirrors, and a book about a 2,000-year-old letter that I love.

Research Area:
Nonfiction Writing

John D'Agata
Contact Information

415 English-Philosophy Building (EPB)
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States