Feb 252013
 

I am an essayist, for better or worse. I don’t suppose many young people dream of becoming essayists. Even as nerdy and bookish a child as I was fantasized about entering the lists of fiction and poetry, those more glamorous, noble genres on which Nobels, Pulitzers and National Book Awards are annually bestowed. So if Freud was right in saying that we can be truly happy only when our childhood ambitions are fulfilled, then I must be content to be merely content.

I like the freedom that comes with lowered expectations. In the area of literary nonfiction, memoirs attract much more attention than essay collections, which are published in a modest, quasi-invisible manner, in keeping with anticipated lower sales. But despite periodic warnings of the essay’s demise, the stuff does continue to be published; if anything, the essay has experienced a slight resurgence of late. I wonder if that may be because it is attuned to the current mood, speaks to the present moment. At bottom, we are deeply unsure and divided, and the essay feasts on doubt.

~ Phillip Lopate

Bending Genre

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Jan 202013
 

Ever since the term “creative nonfiction” first came into widespread use, memoirists and journalists, essayists and fiction writers have faced off over where the border between fact and fiction lies. This debate over ethics, however, has sidelined important questions of literary form. Bending Genre does not ask where the boundaries between genres should be drawn, but what happens when you push the line. Written for writers and students of creative writing, this collection brings together perspectives from today’s leading writers of creative nonfiction, including Michael Martone, Brenda Miller, Ander Monson, and David Shields. Each writer’s innovative essay probes our notions of genre and investigates how creative nonfiction is shaped, modeling the forms of writing being discussed. Like creative nonfiction itself, Bending Genre is an exciting hybrid that breaks new ground.

This new anthology from Bloomsbury might be of interest to a number of us as teachers and writers alike.

Energy and Rue

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Jan 182013
 
The essay is the most ambiguous literary or artistic form going, or maybe gone. It’s at once an antique, redolent of libraries crammed with dusty tracts and improving pensées, and a way of writing oneself into the unknown, a style or mode that’s all swagger and risk and theatrical conjecture. For sure, there are academic essays, but they become essays at the moment they aspire to be other than academic, when they sideline rigour for the pleasures of seduction and surprise. Essays, that is to say, are well made; they contain ‘good writing’. Except when they don’t, when they scorn what’s considered licit in terms of structure, topic or syntax, when they propel the essayist’s ‘I’ to extremes of subjectivity, or dissolve it entire. Essays are occasional – they may be born of diaries, or gobbets of journalism – but they live to be Selected or Collected, to end between authoritative covers. They may not have been written at all, of course: the film-essay, photo-essay and audio-essay all trouble efforts at definition, even if they also lean on a literary heritage. And let’s end this initial survey of an enigmatic field with an adventurous proposition: the centuries-old form of the essay may well be the genre of the future.

~ Brian G. Dillon

Nov 042012
 

The essay is the most ambiguous literary or artistic form going, or maybe gone. It’s at once an antique, redolent of libraries crammed with dusty tracts and improving pensées, and a way of writing oneself into the unknown, a style or mode that’s all swagger and risk and theatrical conjecture. For sure, there are academic essays, but they become essays at the moment they aspire to be other than academic, when they sideline rigour for the pleasures of seduction and surprise. Essays, that is to say, are well made; they contain ‘good writing’. Except when they don’t, when they scorn what’s considered licit in terms of structure, topic or syntax, when they propel the essayist’s ‘I’ to extremes of subjectivity, or dissolve it entire. Essays are occasional – they may be born of diaries, or gobbets of journalism – but they live to be Selected or Collected, to end between authoritative covers. They may not have been written at all, of course: the film-essay, photo-essay and audio-essay all trouble efforts at definition, even if they also lean on a literary heritage. And let’s end this initial survey of an enigmatic field with an adventurous proposition: the centuries-old form of the essay may well be the genre of the future.

~ Brian Dillon

Oct 142012
 

To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.

Robert Atwan, founder of the Best American Essays series, presents his list of “The Top 10 Essays Since 1950″ at Publishers Weekly.

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