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Brian Oliu

Brian Oliu is originally from Readington, New Jersey and currently lives, writes, and teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


Major ambitions for such a small book! Each brief meditation explores the daunting, existential task of searching (for you, whoever you are), and yet, with tender and earnest energy, retains a lover’s belief in the act of seeking.

– Lia Purpura, author of On Looking

Oliu’s book is playful, beautifully structured, filled with surprise and pleasure. Read it now, or you will miss out.

– Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire

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So You Know It's Me

Find the Open Door. Fill the Open Arms.


Along with many of Brian Oliu’s fans, I first read the pieces collected in So You Know It’s Me during their original appearance on Craigslist over a six-week stretch last fall. In that initial iteration, the narrative unfolded with a poignancy that seemed connected to the ephemeral nature of its presentation. (As Oliu knew, the posts would be deleted after forty-five days, in accordance with Craigslist policy.) It’s always perilous to divorce a work of art from its original context, and the pieces in this collection—designed for impermanence—were particularly susceptible to corruption from a new medium. Fortunately, Oliu and the savvy folks at Tiny Hardcore Press have created a text that accumulates, rather than sheds, nuance and richness from its single-volume presentation. So You Know It’s Me offers an unflinching portrait of devotion and desire, of relationship and revelation. It is smart without being a smart-ass. It is genuine but not cloying. It deserves attention.

It demands attention, too. From the opening pages, this book proves as playful as it is provocative, and it resists easy assimilation. So You Know It’s Me wears many hats. It synthesizes missed connection and bildüngsroman. Its dense references—which range from obscure college football coaches to the process for making hounds tooth fabric, from the The Little Prince to the Odyssey—reward careful probing. It offers a loving chronicle of Tuscaloosa, Alabama—not a store-bought map bound by the rules of cartography, but the kind of sketch someone would draw on the back of a paper bag. It weaves together the stories of many women in an attempt to recapture the story of one woman. It presents a narrator talking his way into relationship and self-awareness. It warns you that intimacy is a gem so lovely as to be nonexistent, then leads you to a quarry and asks you to watch as it chips away anyway. It promises jewels, then brandishes “your heart where a rock once was.” It takes hold, holds fast.

It arrests us, but the book itself keeps moving, subverting genres and disrupting formal expectations. Attentive to every detail, Oliu even employs the book’s headers as fields of play. While the even-numbered pages conventionally state the author’s name, the odd numbered pages cleverly invert the book’s title, transforming So You Know It’s Me to So I Know It’s You and thereby further implicating readers in the narrative. We are simultaneously the ones searching and the ones sought, the missing and the missed. This is not just a narrative of one man seeking one woman. Rather, as the narrator tells us, “this is about you.” We readers are not that you, of course, in any literal sense. We know we have never eaten yogurt while fearing our brother’s death, never been wounded by wire. But words are seductive, and despite what we know, we begin to believe.

The book’s conclusion rewards our faith. Each of the its first twenty-two entries has been introduced with the same convention: a number indicating the day of its posting, a title, a location, and a description of who is looking for whom. These entries are all set in Tuscaloosa—on the university campus, at a local bookstore, in a park by the river—and the search is always described as M4W.

The book’s final section ruptures that pattern. Gone are the titles, the descriptors of the narrator and his beloved. This final section gives us only a location, or, more accurately, an anti-location—“45 Nowhere.” Fittingly, this section contains no content. On one level, of course, this gestures toward the fact that on the forty-fifth day, Craigslist began deleting Oliu’s original posts. Forty-five days after the last one was posted, they had all disappeared. More significantly, this also reminds us of what we’ve suspected all along: this story is ours as much as it is the narrator’s. As the narrator points out earlier in the text, we know who we are and where we have been. We also know who we have missed. Rather than being a clever gimmick, then, Oliu’s blank page serves as a testament to his own generosity, his knowledge that although this narrator is a single person in Tuscaloosa, this story belongs to each of us. We remain unmapped, unmoored, undone—ravished by this author, his words, his search for what has been missed, his faith that lovely things remain within our reach.

So You Know It’s Me is one of the loveliest texts I know. Read it. Reread it. Send it to the first person you ever loved. Stash a copy at your favorite landmark. Take a photo of it there at your favorite landmark. Deliver that photo to Brian Oliu. To find him, go to Tuscaloosa. Drive down the street that you saw on television when the tornado hit. You will know it for its lack of landmarks. Turn toward the florist’s that used to house the best butcher in town. Keep going until you reach the road where the first grade teacher used to live. When you get to the house that is no longer her house, turn left. Look for Alabama’s colors—white siding, a red porch. Find the open door. Fill the open arms.

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  1. Jordan Blum said on 07/13/11 at 10:33 am Reply

    I agree about the reversal of title to “So I know It’s You.” Again, it’s almost like Brian is merely the messenger in expressing a text that could be about any one of us. True the pieces are his words, feelings, ideas, etc, but it represents all of us. I think it’s an interesting contrast to the other books we’ve read here at TLP in that those books were more about empathizing with their writer; with this one, we empathize with ourselves because it’s us too.


  2. yrfriendliz said on 07/13/11 at 4:30 pm Reply

    I love the idea of using Craigslist for art/inspiration. A friend of mine a couple of years ago hosted a night of plays based on Craigslist ads. I’ve used them for short stories, I’ve seen those missed connection paintings by someone (ugh google it and you’ll find her). I love it.


  3. brian warfield said on 07/13/11 at 5:50 pm Reply

    Did Brian tell people about his Craigslist posts or were they just discovered?
    I remember when I did a series of Craigslist writing I got a lot of antagonistic responses. Did that happen to him?


  4. Angie Spoto said on 07/13/11 at 8:31 pm Reply

    I think of what Brian did on Craigslist as literature alive–it’s applicable, attainable, and smack dab in the middle of real life (where literature should always be, or try to be, in my opinion). I just think that’s so cool.


  5. Brian Oliu said on 07/14/11 at 12:12 am Reply

    Again, thank you to everyone for their kindness (& especially to Elizabeth for her care and great insight to the concepts of mapping and identity).

    Brian: Those who know me personally knew that I was doing the project and posting them on Craigslist. I’d put links up on my social networking sites of choice, so folks knew that way, but as for those who did not know me, they were perceived as anonymous and simply discovered. I found a blog while I was posting from a girl in town whom I did not know that was talking about them, which was a really exciting moment.

    As for responses, I did not receive many: one from a girl in HS who said she hoped I found who I was looking for, one from someone who told me a painting i referenced was Starry Night (it wasn’t), and another one who asked me what my biggest fears were.


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