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Was it Chris Kraus’s Aliens & Anorexia or Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker? Maybe Great Expectations by Kathy Acker. I can’t say for sure which was my first encounter with New Narrative, but I remember the thrum of exhilaration I got from it. I was twenty-five, studying fiction at Temple. Acker, Kraus, Bellamy—and later discoveries like Laurie Weeks, Kevin Killian, Lynne Tillman: whatever I thought I knew about writing, these writers challenged all of it. I didn’t quite grasp exactly what I’d read—fiction? memoir? theory?—but I came away reeling and raving, and itching to write. 

In their new anthology, Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977–1997, editors Bellamy and Killian gather what they consider the first generation of New Narrative writing—though in keeping with the movement’s suspicion of linear, coherent narratives, they are quick to shrug at this marker. Formed in the late 1970s in San Francisco, New Narrative was a transgressive, queer-leaning, self- and body-obsessed literary avant-garde that took shape in part against the dominance of anti-narrative, self-evacuating Language poetry at the time. Combining the confessional with the conceptual, it experimented with the possibilities of loosely autobiographical storytelling to produce an exploded and unstable “I.” Gossipy and uninhibited, its breath is hot in your ear. It wants to tell you everything, and it wants you to overshare back.