The clock in Matthew Vollmer’s office stopped working a while ago.
The hands are frozen somewhere between one and two o’clock. For Vollmer, an assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech, it might be a sign that his time in the spotlight is just beginning.
Vollmer has written three nonfiction books, including “Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, ‘Found’ Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts.” The New York Times said that Vollmer’s work was “the arrival of a strong new voice.”
“Fakes” is a work of unique nonfiction; Vollmer and co-editor David Shields took inspiration from real documents, such as tax returns and bumper stickers. Shields argued that popular culture is oversaturated with fiction, and craves reality.
“My goal is not to write the next ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Harry Potter,’” Shields said. “I think the most exciting thing by far in popular culture exists in the space between nonfiction and fiction.”
Vollmer and Shields both said they wanted to tell the story that exists within real life. His latest book, “Reality Hunger” focuses on the same issues of creative nonfiction that “Fakes” does.
“I’m interested in the story whether it’s fiction or nonfiction,” Vollmer said. “You could make an argument that nonfiction, even though it’s supposedly about true events, exists as a language. I’m not just giving you the facts of the experience.”
‘Refining the work product’
“Fakes” is one of many experiments that Vollmer has used for experience. Vollmer regularly participates in writing workshops with his students. He said that some of those sessions have given him ideas for new books.
“In this new book of mine, there are only 30 sentences,” Vollmer said. “I never sat down and wondered whether I could write a book with 30 long sentences in it. That happened in a creative writing class.”
Vollmer understands that writing is not done in a box. In the classroom, he tries to instill that sense of community and collaboration during workshops. Vollmer said that doing workshops doesn’t stop once you leave college.
“My first book was a book of stories and some of those stories were written in workshops,” Vollmer said. “[My stories] always had eyes on them.”
As a student at the University of North Carolina, Vollmer found himself emulating writers who took risks. He cited E.E. Cummings and Sylvia Plath as two main influences in his early work.
“I could probably point to almost anything I’ve written and chart the people I’m ripping off,” Vollmer said. “But that’s what I see in writing anyway: the recycling of forms, structures, tropes and themes.”
But in the classroom, he encourages students to take it one step further. Just as “Fakes” blurs the line between nonfiction and fiction, Vollmer urges his classes to step across the same boundaries.
“I wanted to give students experience writing what they might not otherwise write,” Vollmer said. “I find more and more that I need to find a set of limitations I can push against to get excited about writing.”
Shields is also interested in the unique approach Vollmer uses in his writing.
“[Vollmer] and I both teach creative writing and have a great interest in what we call fraudulent artifacts,” Shields said. “They take place in an interesting space between fiction and nonfiction; they occupy a sort of limbo land.”
Shields labeled Vollmer and himself as two authors from different backgrounds: fiction and nonfiction. Shields describes himself as a writer who started out with fiction and merged into the world of nonfiction, and he says Vollmer is on a similar path.
“I was coming into writing [“Fakes”] from a nonfiction perspective, and to a certain degree I think he was coming from a fiction perspective,” Shields said.