Essaying Is My Livelihood

Arts, Humanities


Lisa’s Story

I’m an essayist. I ask questions about my thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, and then go to work answering them by telling true and factual stories. For instance, I was curious about the different ways in which people experience landscape and why I’m so drawn to river landscapes. Through the process of writing the essays in What the River Carries: Encounters with the Mississippi, Missouri, and Platte, I discovered the answers to my questions and came to better understand the complex process of knowing and loving both foreign and familiar places.

A whisper, shadow, or flicker is what I wanted to be

I do my best work when I engage in the process of asking and answering questions with an open mind and heart and a willingness to be changed by what I discover. A few years ago, I found it very easy and satisfying to eat far less than my body needed. It was with delight and a sense of triumph that I watched myself becoming smaller and taking up less space. A whisper, shadow, or flicker is what I wanted to be. When I finally realized that the eating disorder that had left me sick and small when I was 15 and 25 had returned, I was full of urgent questions. Are eating disorders in older women caused by different factors than those in younger women? Are they caused, in part, by the challenges of aging in a culture that sees midlife and beyond as a time of inexorable decline, marked by deterioration, powerlessness, dependency, and irrelevance, and so, marginalizes older people? How can one heal from an illness that is the result of genetic, biological, economic, and cultural forces? Writing the essays that comprise Bread: A Memoir of Hunger, which is currently under review at a university press, answered those questions for me and hopefully, will provide answers for those in similar situations.

Essaying is my art and my vocation. I rise early each morning and write. I earn my livelihood by teaching students at the University of Nebraska-Omaha how to read and write essays – that is, by asking and answering questions with an open mind and heart and a willingness to be changed by what they discover.

About Lisakopp

Lisa Knopp is the author of five collections of essays. Her most recent, What the River Carries, was the winner of the 2013 Nebraska Book Award in the nonfiction/essay category.

 Lisa’s essays have appeared in numerous journals, including Shenandoah, Gettysburg Review, Missouri Review, Creative Nonfiction, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Northwest Review, and Georgia Review. Six of her essays have received notable essay citations in the Best American Essays series. In 2015, Lisa won a $2,500 individual artist fellowship for creative nonfiction from the Nebraska Arts Council. Currently, she is working on Like Salt or Love: Essays on Leaving Home, a collection of autobiographical essays.

 Lisa is a professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. She lives in Lincoln. Please visit her website: