Upcoming Event: In Praise of the Essay/Practice & Form
September 11, 2011 § 4 Comments
James M. Chesbro, editorial assistant at Welcome Table Press, guest-blogs about the upcoming one-day symposium In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form:
During my first semester as an adjunct professor, before I introduced the subject of personal essay to a group of Literature and Composition students, I reread Innovations in Teaching the Essay, a collection of panel discussions given last year at a one-day symposium called In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form. The symposium, launched in 2010 by Welcome Table Press, a nonprofit dedicated to celebrating and publishing the essay, is a meeting place for writers to celebrate and discuss a genre that, as a creative form, often takes a back seat to fiction and poetry. The talks given that afternoon and memorialized on the Welcome Table Press website provided me with the insight and wisdom I needed to walk into the classroom feeling confident that I could teach my students how to understand the essay in a new and exciting way.
Last year’s symposium didn’t only help me understand the myriad ways one can teach the essay. It also helped me recognize exactly what it means to be an essayist these days, when the line between fact and fiction is sometimes blurred. Robert Atwan, series editor of The Best American Essays and keynote speaker at the 2010 symposium, argued that E. B. White was more literary writer than newspaper reporter. “In today’s fact-checking environment,” he said, “it’s easy to forget that the personal essay is a literary form, not a signed affidavit.” Jerald Walker, author of Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption, backed up that point when he admitted that he was “haunted by a recurrent dream in which an exhaustive investigation uncovers that [he is] not a forty-six-year-old black male who was raised in Chicago’s inner-city, but rather an eighty-three-year-old white woman from Hot Springs, Montana.” And so, he continued, these are hostile times for writers of literary nonfiction, and I would have to agree. Which is precisely why essayists need both Welcome Table Press and this symposium, where we can share, discuss, ask questions, and learn from some of the best in the business.
This year’s symposium will be held on Saturday, October 15, at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. Phillip Lopate, who is considered by many one of the most important essayists of our time, will be in attendance as honoree. Robin Hemley, Barbara Hurd, Helen Benedict, Joshua Wolf Shenk, and Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (creators of Idiots’ Books) will discuss practice, form, and other matters of craft. And once again, a panel on innovations in teaching the essay will take place, this time with Richard Hoffman, Patrick Madden, Suzanne Menghraj, Robert Root, Suzanne Strempek Shea, and Dustin Beall Smith. A Q&A with editors from The Best American Essays, Creative Nonfiction, Defunct, Fourth Genre, Graywolf Press, The Pedestrian, River Teeth, and Sarabande Books will finish the day.
Consider joining us at Fordham University, in New York City, on October 15, 2011. In these hostile times, a little praise for the essay is in order.
James M. Chesbro is editorial assistant at Welcome Table Press. His essays appear in Connecticut Review and The Upper East Side Magazine. He is an MFA candidate at Fairfield University.