The Pleasures of the Personal Essay
June 28, 2021 § 4 Comments
By Dinty W. Moore
There is, perhaps, no current genre of writing as misunderstood as the personal essay. The personal (or literary) essay nowadays is often dismissed as some variation on a “Freshman English” paper, dull at best, and at worst a cliché-ridden five-paragraphs weighed down by unnecessary thesis sentences. Alternately, the personal essay is confused with archaic, meandering pontifications from old dead white guys, British and effete. Or at times the essay form just gets lost in the name game confusion of creative nonfiction. What, for instance, do we call a work of scene-based memoir that runs six manuscript pages? Is it an essay, or a memoir, or a, essay-length memoir? And if it is indeed an essay, then what do we call an essay that isn’t primarily memoir?
I’m confusing even myself.
The downside of all this uncertainty is that too often we fail to recognize that the personal essay is a wonderfully flexible and creative form, as alive and inventive as the writer at the desk wishes it to be.
In its purest and most dynamic state, the essay takes flight when a writer engages a topic – any topic under the big yellow sun – and holds it up to the bright light, turning it this way and that, upside and down, studying every perspective, fault, and reflection, in an artful attempt to perceive something fresh and significant. In the hands of contemporary practitioners such as Rebecca Solnit, Brian Doyle, Patrick Madden, or Roxane Gay, the personal essay is an idiosyncratic combination of the author’s discrete sensibilities and the endless possibilities of meaning and connection.
I’d like the personal essay to generate less confusion, and I’d like more nonfiction writers to see how this flexible form creates opportunities to expand on our “usual” subjects, to find new life and fresh writing pathways emanating from our personal stories.
On Wednesday, I’ll explore all of this in a 75-minute webinar – The Pleasures of the Personal Essay – sponsored by Jane Friedman, examining the myriad forms that an essay can take. The 90-minute course will discuss how the essay fits into contemporary literary publishing, how understanding the flexibility of the essay form can help with “stuckness,” The role of research (and how it can be fun not work), and how to find the best markets (literary magazines and beyond). Participants will leave with useful prompts to help them determine their own essayistic opportunities.
Here are the details. Hope to see you there:
When: Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Time: 1 p.m.–2:15 p.m. Eastern Time / 10 a.m. Pacific Time
Do I have to attend the live class?
No. Everyone who registers will get access to the recording.