Jeff Nunokawa: Using Facebook as a Literary Form

jeffJeff Nunokawa wakes up every morning and goes on Facebook. When he sits down at his computer, however, he doesn’t scroll through his newsfeed or ponder over which profile picture will get him the most likes—instead, he writes.

Since 2007,Nunokawa, a professor at Princeton University, has been composing short essays on his Facebook account through the note function, and now he’s compiled those same notes in his new book, Note Book. Each note, he said, is like a condensed version of a literary article, in which he usually begins with a literary quotation and then writes a few sentences or a few paragraphs.

When he writes, it takes him anywhere from twenty minutes to five hours. For Nunokawa, the key is letting his thoughts guide him as he writes.

“The last line, the conclusion, how I get there—it is a kind of thought experiment whose conclusion is determined entirely by the force of the writing. I think the writing is the thinking. I don’t know the end in advance and that’s kind of a thrill. It certainly keeps me going,” he said.

j10424He began this journey in 2007, but had no idea it would eventually amount to thousands of notes or even a book.

“I don’t know what I was thinking at first. Actually, when I first started, I think I was just being facetious a little bit, or just playing around,” he said. “You move from parody to prayer in about 60 seconds. You start by making fun of something, then you get real sincere, to use a word that’s really central to this book—sincere.”

Nunokawa said that Facebook is an experimental medium for this kind of work, noting that Facebook is usually used for visual communication, like pictures and videos.

“There was just something more I could do, a really new project. So I’ve done a lot of writing in the last seven or eight years on the Facebook page, and I’m really glad about the writing and I’ll continue to do it. But aside from even that—the novelty of that modality—more interesting to me is the thought that I could aspire to be a writer of real significance in a different sphere,” he said.

Although he is happy to see his notes compiled into a book, Nunokawa said there is a lot lost when putting his notes into book form.

“Part of what’s instructive is the sense of what’s lost. Not just what’s gained,” he said. “Loss is central to my and everyone else’s project, but the sense of what’s lost here is also interesting. What’s lost? The light of the Internet. The liveliness, the crackling.”

Nunokawa was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but left his home state to attend Yale University for his bachelor’s degree. He earned his doctorate from Cornell University. In 1988, he began teaching at Princeton and has been there ever since. He teaches English and specializes in the Victorian novel.

When he’s not teaching or writing, Nunokawa enjoys fulfilling his duties as master of Rockefeller College, where he is widely known for his energetic and genuine interactions with students.

“It’s become family to me. When I was young, I didn’t really understand why people had kids,” he said. “And then I got it, and now I have 500 of them. It’s been, in some ways, the most fulfilling period of my life.”


Note Book is published by Princeton University Press.