Seven Essays I Meet in My Literary Heaven

January 21, 2014 § 16 Comments

heavenA guest post from Jennifer Niesslein, founder of Full Grown People, the essay magazine:

1.     The Essay that Manages to Be Funny, Poignant, and Thought-Provoking All at the Same Time. I think I like this kind of essay because it most closely mimics real life: the humor and the pathos and the mysteries of being human. Shaun Anzaldua and Jody Mace are fabulous at this, and I don’t why they’re not household names.

2.     The Essay that Takes Me Someplace. Listen, I live a sheltered life. I’ve been out of the country once and that was to Toronto for a conference. (The black squirrels weirded me out.) My favorite place is home, where my robe is waiting. So when I come across an essay that transports me to Montana, or Ireland, or Italy in a way that feels like the writer is carrying me in her pocket? I’m in.

3.     The Essay that Sticks the Landing. I hate an everything-is-perfect-now ending, but those endings (like Jill Talbot’s or Amber Stevens’s) that take the momentum that the writer has built and actually bring it to a lip-pressing crescendo make me swoon. Isn’t that the point of an essay? To haunt the reader just a little?

4.     The Essay that Teaches Me Something. What do I know about Jewish remembrance traditions or making paper? Nothing. (See “sheltered life,” above.) As William Bradley so eloquently wrote about, these essays put me in the skin of someone I’m not, and they increase my empathy.

5.     The Essay that Makes Me Rethink My Attitude Entirely. And oh, no, I’m not talking about those essays that are basically click-bait. I’m talking essays like Kim Kankiewicz’s that completely changed my thinking about beauty, from a way to stand out to a way to fit in.

6.     The Essay that I Know Someone Will Read and Be Thankful that It Came to Him or Her at This Moment. This is the most very gratifying part of my job—running something that I know will make someone say, “Oh, holy hell, YES!” Not every essay will hit a nerve with every reader, but there is something magical when a reader finds an essay that tackles the same circumstances he finds himself in and, at least for a moment, his loneliness disappears.

7.     The Essay that Illuminates Naked Yearning. These pieces may force writers to reveal something ugly about themselves, but we all have something ugly in us, and there’s a relief that comes from recognizing it in an essay. Every good essay, though, mitigates that ugliness by revealing a yearning. Jennifer Maher yearns for a baby.Sonya Huber yearns for her partner to be cleaved from his addiction. Eric Williamson yearns for a more peaceful marriage. All of us—writer and reader—can yearn and yearn and yearn, but that doesn’t always mean we get what we want. In an essay, we get to be understood.

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