A Report from WTP’s “In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form”

October 19, 2011 § 6 Comments

A guest post from essayist Amanda Dambrink:

This past weekend I spent the better part of two days traveling so I could spend a few hours reveling in essays at the Welcome Table Press Symposium in west Manhattan, one thousand miles from my apartment in west Madison. And after a long week of meetings and training at a new corporate job I felt almost giddy sitting in that sunlit room full of essayists as Phillip Lopate began to read aloud, “There’s something about autumn that makes me want to rearrange my bookshelves…”

Those of us who were able to attend last year’s inaugural Symposium knew to expect a day packed with high-quality presentations, panels, and readings by some of the most dedicated writers, teachers, and publishers of the essay, and this year’s event did not disappoint. Following Phillip Lopate’s honoree address, presenters like Barbara Hurd and Robin Hemley challenged us to, among other things, write essays that “startle us into discovery,” embrace the potential for rigorous research to inform our writing, and rethink the way we incorporate visual art into essays and vice versa.

In a presentation on teaching the essay, panelists including Richard Hoffman, Robert Root, and other great teachers asked us to reconsider the role of the workshop leader and discussed how to facilitate better writing by encouraging essayists to study their long literary heritage, to always be suspicious of certainty, and to remain, as journalist Donald Murray has said, “forever astonished at the obvious.”

Fantastic readings by Amy Leach, E. J. Levy, Shelley Salamensky, Ryan Van Meter, and Jerald Walker were followed by a helpful Q&A panel on the state of the essay in the publishing marketplace. Representatives from top-notch publishers of the essay like Fourth Genre, River Teeth, and Creative Nonfiction passed on practical advice and insights about where and how to go about finding homes for the essays we write.

By the end of the day I had accumulated a long list of essays to read, met many new essayists whose work I look forward to following in the future, and purchased enough books that I could rationalize rearranging my bookshelves when I got home. Thanks to Kim Dana Kupperman and the rest of the Board of Directors and volunteers at Welcome Table Press who organized this wonderful event! I know there are a lot of us essayists looking forward to the next Symposium.

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