Edward McPherson

Associate Professor of English
Director of English Undergraduate Studies
Pronouns: he/him/his
MFA, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
research interests:
  • Nonfiction Writing
  • the Essay
  • Life Writing
  • Fiction Writing
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    contact info:

    office hours:

    • Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:30 am - 12:30 pm (and by appointment)

    mailing address:

    • Washington University
    • CB 1122
    • One Brookings Dr.
    • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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    Edward McPherson is the award-winning author of three nonfiction books and numerous essays and short stories. His work has appeared in such outlets as the New York Times Magazine, the Paris Review, and the American Scholar.

    Edward McPherson is the author of three nonfiction books: Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat (Faber & Faber), The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats (HarperCollins), and The History of the Future: American Essays (Coffee House Press). He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Paris ReviewTin House, the American Scholar, the Gettysburg ReviewGulf CoastSalon, the Southern Review, the New York ObserverI.D.EsopusEpochEssay DailyCatapultTrue StoryLiterary HubGuernica, and Talk, among others. He has received a Pushcart Prize, the PEN Southwest Book Award in Nonfiction, the Gulf Coast Prize in Fiction, an Artist Fellowship from the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, and the Gesell Award from the University of Minnesota, where he received his MFA. He is a contributing editor of The Common Reader. Before joining the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis, he was the Interim Education Director at the Loft Literary Center and taught creative writing at the University of Minnesota.

      Fall 2021 Courses

      Craft of Creative Nonfiction: On Place (Writing 5520)

      Joan Didion writes, "A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image." This craft class will focus on the notion of place in creative nonfiction. We will ask: what happens when the background moves to the foreground and begins to do the work of character, story, and theme? How does a writer navigate the current between a physical landscape and an emotional one? We'll look at strategies for locating our work in a specific landscape—evoking not just setting, but loading it with context, feeling, desire, and language. And of course this semester we might ask with new urgency how ideas of place and space appear to us after our long time of quarantine. We will read writers such as Hilton Als, Joan Didion, Teju Cole, Louise Erdrich, Natalia Ginzburg, James Baldwin, Rebecca Solnit, Gabriel García Márquez, Jamaica Kincaid, Lillian Ross, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Susan Orlean, Garrett Hongo, Colson Whitehead, Valeria Luiselli, Svetlana Alexievich, Vladimir Nabokov, J.A. Baker, André Aciman, Joe Sacco, Aisha Sabatini Sloan, D.J. Waldie, T Fleischmann, Pico Iyer, David Wojnarowicz, Sarah M. Broom, and David Rakoff.

        Creative Nonfiction Writing 2: Literary Journalism (Writing 320)

        This is an intermediate workshop in the craft of writing “literary journalism”—a vague term, at best. Reportorial writing is as old as the hills, but for the purpose of this class, literary journalism will encompass documentary reporting that favors innovation over mass-production, creativity over predictability. We’re interested in how the story is told. While it has its own forms and tropes, literary journalism might borrow the tools of essay, memoir, fiction, and poetry. It also is a genre in great flux. Part of the goal of this class is to define what, exactly, we think literary journalism is and what it can/should do as a prose form.

          Selected Publications and Interviews

          The History of the Future: American EssaysCoffee House Press, 2017

          The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats: A Newcomer's Journey into the World of Bridge, Harper Collins, 2007 (hardcover), 2008 (paperback)

          Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat, UK: Faber and Faber, 2004 (hardcover), 2005 (paperback); reprint, US: Newmarket Press, 2005 (hardcover), 2007 (paperback)

          Pushcart Prize XL: Best of the Small Presses 2016, Pushcart Press, November 2015. Short story, “Telref,” included in the anthology.

          Love Stories for Turbulent Times: Loving Through the Apocalypse, Pushcart Press, February 2018. Short story, “Telref,” included in the anthology.

          Guest prose editor, The Pushcart Prize XLI: Best of the Small Presses 2017, Pushcart Press, November 2016.

          Interview in Essay Daily: “It Starts With a Curiosity” (September 18, 2017)

          Audio essay from the radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge” (airdate: June 11, 2017)

          Interview on “St. Louis on the Air” (airdate: June 6, 2016)

          Interview on “The Leonard Lopate Show” (airdate: August 9, 2007)

          Interview on NPR show “All Things Considered” (airdate: July 9, 2005)

          The History of the Future: American Essays

          The History of the Future: American Essays

          A collection of long essays centered on American places where the past is erupting into the present in unexpected ways. What does it mean to think about Dallas in relationship to Dallas? In The History of the Future, McPherson reexamines the space between history, experience, and myth. Private streets, racism, and the St. Louis World’s Fair; fracking for oil and digging for dinosaurs in North Dakota boomtowns—Americana slides into apocalypse in these essays, revealing us to ourselves.

          • "Best Books of 2017" (The Guardian, Iowa Public Radio)
          • Winner of the 2017 PEN Southwest Book Award
          • Finalist for the 2018 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award
          The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats: A Newcomer's Journey into the World of Bridge

          The Backwash Squeeze and Other Improbable Feats: A Newcomer's Journey into the World of Bridge

          In this spirited homage, McPherson recounts the colorful history of bridge and his attempts to master its mysteries in time to compete at the North American Bridge Championships—despite being barely able to shuffle cards. The characters he meets convince him that in a game that pits mind against mind, close attention to the cards often reveals much about those sitting at the table.

          Buster Keaton: Tempest In A Flat Hat

          Buster Keaton: Tempest In A Flat Hat

          This biography celebrates one of cinema’s greatest clowns, painting a detailed portrait of the man behind the mayhem and offering a fresh look at the classic comedies that defined the Golden Age of silent film. McPherson takes the reader on a journey through Buster Keaton’s life and times, from the vaudeville stage to the glittering screens of early Hollywood, revealing Keaton as an antic genius—equal parts auteur, innovator, prankster, and daredevil.