Circus Payday: an ethnography

by Julia Lynn Offen


[Editor’s Note: Click on the triptych below to view it at full size.]



Julia Lynn Offen is a writer, anthropologist, and editor living in beautiful coastal California after years spent trotting across North America and Europe. She earned her M.F.A. in English from the University of California at Irvine, an M.A. in Sociology from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of California at San Diego. Her creative prose has been published in Green Mountains Review, Ethnography, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rum Punch Press, and Anthropology and Humanism. Now, she is the fiction and creative nonfiction editor for the journal Anthropology and Humanism. She spent two years with her dog living and working with traveling circuses across Europe, which may perhaps explain some things.


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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Circus Payday: an ethnography”?

Readers can see my experience of surprise at the core of this piece (“Circus Payday” is nonfiction, after all). I knew timing was important when conducting a research visit to speak with circus workers – you especially don’t want to get in the way of work, and there is a lot of it. I followed the rules as I knew them from the European circuses I visited: you show up close to the beginning of a break (too late into it and there may be a bit too much drinking to be comfortable). But, oops, American circuses are not European circuses. Staff is different, the sociability of the local townies is different, and let’s just say that leisure activities seem to differ. In this piece, I try to expand upon the story of this brief incident by drawing some broad strokes of circus basics (my left panel), and offering some bits of personal experience from my time with circuses (my right panel). That is how ethnographic writing works: research and experience backing up stories of the meaningful moments where so much more becomes clear (to both the author and the reader).


Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

Matter Press recently released titles from Meg Boscov, Abby Frucht, Robert McBrearty, Tori Bond, Kathy Fish, and Christopher Allen. Click here.

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Poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction/prose poetry submissions are now OPEN. The submission period closes June 15, 2020; submit here.


09/07 • Paige Welsh
09/09 • Avital Gad-Cykman
09/10 • Amy Bobeda (6 of 6)
09/14 • Julianne Di Nenna
09/16 • Joey Kim
09/17 • Erika Kanda
09/21 • Brittany Oppenheimer
09/23 • Pamela Painter