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Penguin Random House

Look Inside | Reading Guide

The Art of the Personal Essay

An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present

By Phillip Lopate

Category: essays & literary collections | reference | writing | literary criticism.

Jan 15, 1997 | ISBN 9780385423397 | 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 --> | ISBN 9780385423397 --> Buy

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About The Art of the Personal Essay

For more than four hundred years, the personal  essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant  of all literary forms. Distinguished from the  detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational  tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward  candor and self-disclosure, the personal essay  seizes on the minutiae of daily life-vanities,  fashions, foibles, oddballs, seasonal rituals, love and  disappointment, the pleasures of solitude,  reading, taking a walk — to offer insight into the  human condition and the great social and political  issues of the day. The Art of the Personal Essay is  the first anthology to celebrate this fertile  genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal  essays, including influential forerunners from  ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East,  masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the  sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest  personal essays from the last four centuries, editor  Phillip Lopate, himself an acclaimed essayist,  displays the tradition of the personal essay in all  its historical grandeur, depth, and  diversity.

Reading Guide

Also by Phillip Lopate

The Glorious American Essay

About Phillip Lopate

PHILLIP LOPATE is the author of the essay collections Against Joie de Vivre, Bachelorhood, and Portrait of My Body. He has also written the novels The Rug Merchant and Confessions of a Summer. Lopate is the editor of The Art of the Personal Essay and the Library of America’s Writing… More about Phillip Lopate

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Phillip Lopate Celebrates the Personal Essay

(and recommends six great essayists he really thinks you should read)

O ne day in the 1980s, the writer Phillip Lopate ’64CC stood before the bookcase of a vacation home he had rented for the summer, looking for something to read. His eyes fell on a volume by William Hazlitt, and though Lopate wasn’t deeply familiar with the Romantic Age essayist and critic, he pulled the book from the shelf and carried it outside to a hammock. Instantly, he became immersed in Hazlitt’s forthright, conversational voice. Hazlitt led Lopate to Charles Lamb, Hazlitt’s close friend and a distinguished essayist himself. Both these Englishmen referred often to Montaigne, the sixteenth-century French writer who is credited with inventing the modern essay and giving it its name (which derives from the French verb essayer , or “to try”). “By the time I got to Montaigne,” Lopate says, “I was completely hooked on the form.”

Thirty years later, Lopate, who is the director of the nonfiction concentration in the graduate writing program at Columbia’s School of the Arts, sits in his light-filled four-story brownstone in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and speaks about the personal essay — the literary form of which he is a leading practitioner, advocate, and connoisseur.

Lopate, seventy-two, has worked hard to get this underappreciated form embraced not merely within the academy (long dominated by poetry, drama, and fiction), but also, perhaps more improbably, in bookstores and on bestseller lists. Meghan Daum, Leslie Jamison, John Jeremiah Sullivan, John D’Agata, and a host of other writers who’ve recently published popular personal-essay collections owe at least a modicum of their success to this man.

Lopate doesn’t disagree with that assessment (“There are far more essayists and the essay is definitely more popular today than it was thirty years ago, and I’ll take a little credit for that”), but he also believes that the genre is uniquely suited to the times we live in. The rise of digital media has brought with it a flood of sharing and storytelling in the form of blogs, and in an era of ever-briefer attention spans, “an essay is short and rarely takes more than an hour to read.”

“There’s also the fact that this form is comfortable with skepticism, doubt, and self-doubt,” says Lopate. “Instead of lecturing you, it invites you into the pathways of the mind of a writer who’s examining, testing, and speculating. As [German social theorist Theodor] Adorno said, the essay isn’t responsible for solving anything. And that suits an historical moment that’s filled with uncertainty and mistrust of dogmatism.”

Lopate had always been fond of first-person narration, both in his writing (fiction, poetry, and the memoir-like pieces he began publishing in the 1970s) and in his reading. “I loved Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground and Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess,’” he says. “The narrator didn’t have to be reliable or even likable; he or she just had to be lively.” So, naturally, when he encountered the confiding, distinctive voices of essayists like Hazlitt, Lamb, and Montaigne, he began to seek out similar writers, for the pure pleasure of their company. His discovery of these past masters of the essay deepened his interest in the form and its roots, and he began teaching the personal essay in his literature courses at the University of Houston, where he was a faculty member from 1980 to 1988. But when he started scouring the book catalogs for an anthology to assign his students, he found nothing suitable. “There were collections of contemporary works, but there was nothing historical, nothing that suggested the canon going all the way back.” Now Lopate had a mission: “It was up to me to produce the anthology I was looking for.”

He got a contract for that collection, and the result, published in 1994, was The Art of the Personal Essay , which takes the reader from the ancient musings of Seneca and Plutarch to the modern ones of Annie Dillard and Gore Vidal. The book has been widely adopted by colleges and universities, for use in survey courses as well as courses that focus specifically on the essay. And thus did this Rodney Dangerfield of genres (“The essay has been considered minor even though it’s an ancient, distinguished form,” Lopate says) assume its rightful place in academia. Lopate’s collection follows the development of the essay as it becomes ever more elastic, expanding to encompass personality-suffused criticism as well as the “new journalism” of the sixties and seventies, as practiced by Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, and Norman Mailer.

Lopate embraces such eclecticism and is not the least bit doctrinaire in his tastes. In evaluating an essay — whether he’s reading it for work or pleasure — his only yardsticks are his own enthusiasm and the sparkle of the prose. As it happens, his enthusiasms run both deep and broad, accommodating writers as different as Friedrich Nietzsche and Nora Ephron. He asks only that a writer be entertaining and honest. As for sparkling prose, it’s easy to recognize but difficult to define. Nonetheless, Lopate believes it can be broken down into three key components: 1) an element of surprise, in that each sentence ends in a different place than you thought it would; 2) textured language, with buzzes and quirks created by the placement of interesting words next to other interesting words; and 3) a density of thought, with no dumbing down and an implicit awareness of the essay’s long literary tradition.

Still, as catholic as his tastes are, Lopate, like every passionate reader, has certain predilections that lead him to favor some writers and types of writing over others. “We all bring our own backgrounds to our reading,” he says, “and we tend to respond more to work that resonates with our own experience.” Lopate admits, for example, that he cannot fully appreciate even as highly influential and gifted an essayist as David Foster Wallace, partly because he is made uncomfortable and slightly anxious by Wallace’s “confusion and neurosis.” (“There was a lot of nuttiness in my family,” Lopate says.) Although his students look up to Wallace as “this brilliant eccentric, a sort of Kurt Cobain of literature,” Lopate says, “I can’t have that same relationship to him because I’m older than Wallace, and in my own reading I’m drawn to authors who seem wiser than I am. I don’t want the experience of reading somebody who’s tormented. That sounds very narrow of me, but on some level I’m still looking for wisdom when I read.”

He’s also partial to contrarians, and can rattle off a list of favorite works with “against” in their titles: Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation ; Joyce Carol Oates’s “Against Nature”; the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz’s “Against Poets”; Laura Kipnis’s Against Love (“She says love is a kind of bully”); Lopate’s own Against Joie de Vivre . “These are perverse positions,” he says. “How can someone be against such things? But I like these paradoxes because they’re a way of introducing doubt. In a period where there’s a lot of orthodoxy around political correctness, it becomes risky but enticing to interrogate your own prejudices, your own lack of sympathy — to try to tell some truth instead of pretending that you’re universally sympathetic.”

Ultimately, the all-encompassing nature of the essay may hold the key to its staying power. Lopate points to two main traditions in essay writing. “There are the essayists like Charles Lamb, who are always dilating over something daily and minor,” he says, “and then there are those like George Orwell and James Baldwin, who are grappling with the major themes of the day.” Like the novel, the essay can engage with any topic imaginable. “Nothing is off-limits — the essay can absorb theology and science and philosophy, as well as experience. It’s a very capacious literary form, and I believe absolutely that it will endure.”

But who and what, amid a multitude of options, should an eager reader tackle first? Columbia Magazine put the question to Lopate: which six essayists do you recommend that everyone read? Given the wealth of material, limiting Lopate to such a small number seemed almost sadistic. So to narrow the field, we added parameters: stick to modern-day essayists (twentieth and twenty-first century) writing in English, and choose distinct voices that in no way duplicate one another.

Lopate’s final list is a lot like a terrific essay — quirky, unpredictable, and highly individual.

Max Beerbohm

British, 1872–1956

Painting of Max Beerbohm

Lopate’s take: For me, wisdom is often found in humor, so I naturally gravitate toward a comic writer like Beerbohm, an essayist who was also a brilliant caricaturist. From my first reading of Beerbohm — whom I discovered after I came across Virginia Woolf’s mention of him as the only true inheritor of the tradition of Hazlitt and Lamb — I found him hilarious, especially in his willingness to portray himself as disreputable or dimwitted (he was anything but) and to push the boundaries of convention, deflate pretension, and expose hypocrisy. And how could I, the author of a book called Against Joie de Vivre , not relate to the curmudgeonly, contrarian persona that Beerbohm often adopts? I’m a big fan, and my hope that he’ll be discovered by a wider audience led me to edit and write the introduction to The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm , published last year.

If you read just one: “Laughter”

Memorable lines: “A public crowd, because of a lack of broad impersonal humanity in me, rather insulates than absorbs me. Amidst the guffaws of a thousand strangers I become unnaturally grave. If these people were the entertainment, and I the audience, I should be sympathetic enough. But to be one of them is a position that drives me spiritually aloof.”

George Orwell

British, 1903–1950

Painting of George Orwell

Lopate’s take: Writing from the perspective of a decent everyman, Orwell tries, in all his autobiographical work, to position his own experience within the larger historical context. And, curiously, everyone finds his own Orwell; he’s a hero to the right and the left, and everyone likes to quote him for his own purposes. “Good prose is like a window pane,” he says in his essay “Why I Write,” and his own style is a model of clarity. Above all, Orwell is notable for his integrity, evident in his unwavering honesty about his own petty or ugly impulses (as in “Shooting an Elephant,” in which he admits to hating both the empire he serves as a police officer in Burma and the Burmese people, who make his life a living hell). With Orwell, the reader always feels that he’s leveling with us. He’s showing us how a decent, civilized person can have these appalling tendencies when faced with difficult options. Like all the best essayists, Orwell moves us toward complexity.

If you read just one: “Such, Such Were the Joys”

Memorable lines: “It is not easy for me to think of my schooldays without seeming to breathe in a whiff of something cold and evil-smelling — a sort of compound of sweaty stockings, dirty towels, faecal smells blowing along corridors, forks with old food between the prongs, neck-of-mutton stew, and the banging doors of the lavatories and the echoing chamber-pots in the dormitories.”

James Baldwin

American, 1924–1987

Painting of James Baldwin

Lopate’s take: In my view, the Harlem-raised Baldwin (who lived most of his adult life as an expatriate in Europe) is the most important American essayist of the postwar period. And perhaps nothing makes that case more eloquently than his masterwork, “Notes of a Native Son.” As with the best essays, what drives it is the writer’s need to figure out what he thinks. And “Notes” also showcases Baldwin’s trademark honesty and ability to turn himself into a character who comes alive on the page. In it, he braids together the Harlem riot of 1943, his father’s death, and his own young man’s confusions: Does he hate his father? Does he love his father? Is he becoming his father? He juggles all these different perspectives, moving between past and present and between individual psychology and the sociological. It’s a twenty-page essay with the density of a novella.

If you read just one: “Notes of a Native Son”

Memorable lines: “It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength.”

Joan Didion

American, 1934–

Painting of Joan Didion

Lopate’s take: Didion, a native Californian, came to essay writing through journalism, and her meticulous reporting skills shine through everything she writes. While many essayists flee from the topical, she is attracted to it, drawing fascinating connections among various cultural phenomena of the day, from rock songs to California weather to the Manson Family murders. Regardless of the topic, we want to know what Didion has to say about it; after being bombarded by what all the half-wits are saying, we need to see what a sophisticated eye like Didion’s sees. There’s something poignant in her cool, incisive prose style (Hemingway was a major influence), particularly in her presentation of self — generally as small (a kind of little girl in the corner), timid, inarticulate, and not especially likable. Like Baldwin, Didion demonstrates an invaluable skill of the personal essayist: the ability to make herself a compelling character.

If you read just one: “Goodbye to All That”

Memorable lines: “To an Eastern child, particularly a child who has always had an uncle on Wall Street and who has spent several hundred Saturdays first at F. A. O. Schwarz and being fitted for shoes at Best’s and then waiting under the Biltmore clock and dancing to Lester Lanin, New York is just a city, albeit the city, a plausible place for people to live. But to those of us who came from places where no one had heard of Lester Lanin and Grand Central Station was a Saturday radio program, where Wall Street and Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue were not places at all but abstractions (‘Money,’ and ‘High Fashion,’ and ‘The Hucksters’), New York was no mere city. It was instead an infinitely romantic notion, the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power, the shining and perishable dream itself. To think of ‘living’ there was to reduce the miraculous to the mundane; one does not ‘live’ at Xanadu.”

Vivian Gornick

American, 1935–

Painting of Vivian Gornick

Lopate’s take: The Bronx-born Gornick, a stalwart of the feminist movement, is a quintessentially urban writer, drawing material for her personal essays almost entirely from the streets of New York City. She’s an American version of what the French call a flâneur , or, in her case, a flâneuse : someone who’s constantly on the street, walking around, observing, and having amusing encounters with strangers. Gornick casts herself as an “odd woman” (her latest book is titled The Odd Woman and the City ), who is lonely but stubborn and whose friends have become her surrogate family. She builds her essays out of the fragments she picks up as she wanders around the city. It’s territory she’s perfected and owns.

If you read just one: “On the Street: Nobody Watches, Everyone Performs”

Memorable lines: “They’re in the room with me now, these people I brushed against today. They’ve become company, great company. I’d rather be here with them tonight than with anyone else I know. They return the narrative impulse to me. Let me make sense of things. Remind me to tell the story I cannot make my life tell. I need them.”

Richard Rodriguez

American, 1944–

Painting of Richard Rodriguez

Lopate’s take: Raised by Mexican immigrant parents in Sacramento, California, Rodriguez ’85GS, ’91SOA documented his gradual separation from their world in his celebrated 1982 book Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez . This acute assessment of what it means to become an American took an unpopular position, because the book basically says that you can’t go back to the old country; you can’t be a hyphenate in America. When you assimilate, you lose your roots. So the minute Rodriguez became a “scholarship boy,” there was a schism between him and his parents. Accustomed to going against the grain — he opposes affirmative action and bilingual education; he is a spiritual person whose peers are secular; he claims membership in an institution (the Catholic Church) that officially condemns his homosexuality — Rodriguez is comfortable with paradox. And that results in a bemused, disenchanted point of view that I find witty, wise, and very reassuring.

If you read just one: “Late Victorians”

Memorable lines: “At the high school where César taught, teachers and parents had organized a campaign to keep kids from driving themselves to the junior prom, in an attempt to forestall liquor and death. Such a scheme momentarily reawakened César’s Latin skepticism. Didn’t the Americans know? (His tone exaggerated incredulity.) Teenagers will crash into lampposts on their way home from proms, and there is nothing to be done about it. You cannot forbid tragedy.”

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the art of a personal essay

Sam Anderson: How The Art of the Personal Essay Changed My Life

In conversation with will schwalbe on but that's another story.

Will Schwalbe: Hi, I’m Will Schwalbe, and you’re listening to But That’s Another Story . It’s probably obvious by now that I’m obsessed with all different kinds of books. I like to vary my reading—a Scandinavian thriller one day, an anthology of short stories the next. But every now and then, I get totally hooked on one particular author. One book will be my gateway drug and then I’ll want to read another and another and another until I’ve ever everything she or he has ever written. And when I go on these epic single author reading jags, it’s often because the books themselves are literally that—epics. I’ll never forget the experience of reading Mary Renault for the first time. As I was finishing The King Must Die , her massive novel about Theseus and ancient Greece, I knew I wasn’t going to stop for a second before starting the sequel. And even before I had finished that book, I was already itching the read her trilogy about Alexander the Great. And don’t get me started on J.R.R. Tolkien. The first time I picked up The Hobbit , I knew almost instantly the next three books I would be reading— The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The same thing with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I got hooked only recently, but read all five in a row. I’m now waiting, impatiently, for him to finish. People talk now of binge-watching television shows on Netflix, but I’ve been bingeing for as long as I can remember—on books. And recently, I got to talking about how easy it to lose—and find—yourself in a literary obsession with today’s guest.

Sam Anderson: My name is Sam Anderson. I wrote a book called Boom Town . It’s about Oklahoma City, which I like to argue is the most secretly interesting place in America.

WS: Sam Anderson is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine , and has written for  Slate , New York Magazine , and many, many more. He’s also won the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism. He’s been doing this a long time. And Sam has known from the start that this is exactly what he was meant to do.

SA: I was born in Eugene, Oregon, and I grew up between there and northern California. It’s a little town called Lodi, famous only from a Creedence Clearwater Revival song called, “Oh Lord, Stuck In Lodi Again.”

I didn’t grow up in a really literary place. We didn’t have a house full of books or anything.

WS: A lack of books, maybe, but an abundance of stories.

SA: My mother was a great storyteller. She’s super creative, and we’d beg her to tell us bedtime stories and she would just make them up. She’d do this thing called “Hand Stories” where she would actually take our hands and move them around like characters in a story. You know, it was an adventure. It’d be like two bunnies or something hopping up a hill, and your hands would become the bunnies and then they would run into some other creature. And her hand would be that creature, or one of your hands would turn into it or something like that. So I don’t remember any of them, they were all improvised. So she was incredibly fun and creative, and our dad would read us Hans Christian Andersen stories or Grimm’s fairy tales every night.

Both of my parents were single parents after the divorce, and so we’d be crashing in my dad’s apartment on sleeping bags on the floor, and he would just be sitting near us with the lights out or dimmed—he has this great, deep voice. So, just hearing my father’s voice and drifting off to sleep as these fantastical stories are kind of floating around the room, it’s a really nice memory.

WS: But before long, Sam found himself searching for more stories—this time, in the pages of books.

SA: As a kid, I was a very good reader. That was my main skill in school, and I was a real introvert. I was shy, I had a lot of anxiety. And I think books were a safe world for me to disappear into. I think a lot of adolescents do this. You kind of decide what kind of person you’re going to be, and there’s a little bit of a rebellious streak in that. And I decided that I wanted to be a great writer. I wanted to just be this impressive, famous author.

WS: And Sam remembers the authors from that time period who he considered great.

SA: I remember reading Ralph Waldo Emerson and the power of his voice. Just this incredible cosmic certainty about what he was talking about, and these sentences that were just so vivid and arresting. I don’t know. I’d never really heard a voice like that before, I think. So, that spoke to me deeply and I thought, I want to sound like this. I want to have this kind of power.

I started in a very kind of pretentious, adolescent way reading feverishly all the time, everything. And that’s when I first became conscious of the great classics and wanting to become one of those. And I got really into Dostoevsky for several years. I’m still very into Dostoevsky, he’s one of my formative influences.

I remember walking around Lodi, California, walking to school in the morning and walking home after school, reading The Brothers Karamazov as I walked. So you know, there’s a bit of intellectual theater going on there, but at the same time, I was also just deeply moved and amazed by what I was reading.

WS: That reading began to have an impact on Sam’s writing—but not necessarily in a good way.

SA: I think I’ve always been kind of a mimic and so I try to write like what I’m reading, and I produced a lot of short stories and fiction that kind of went nowhere, but just reproduced this Dostoevsky voice. It sounded like it had been written in Russian and then translated by Constance Garnett in like 1910, or whenever she did those translations. It sounded so stilted and unlike my own voice, but I thought it was impressive as a 16 year old, 17 year old, and I was trying to impress people.

I was really sealing myself off into this world of books, and then you know, I’d lay around and I’d write feverishly in my journal and write poems or stories or whatever in my journal, probably about how misunderstood I was. There were—oh, gosh—five or ten years where I was probably very insufferable and had this feeling of superiority that I cringe looking back at.

WS: Yet that seriousness wasn’t all bad—one of Sam’s literary rituals from college would prove invaluable.

SA: I just spent a ton of time hanging out in the library, and I would always, when I could, get a work study job in the library, and then when I was supposed to be shelving books, I would mostly be pulling books out semi-randomly and just reading the first page and seeing if a voice caught me. I was just looking for voices to catch me, and help me feel out who I was and what kind of writer I wanted to be. And so I just spent so many hundreds of hours in the library just looking for voices.

WS: Do you still do that?

SA: I do, yeah. I love libraries. Libraries are kind of where I feel most at home and most safe, I think. There will always be some portion of time when I’m at a library where I’m just wandering around and grabbing things off a shelf and being like, I’ve never read this author. What does he or she sound like? And then sometimes you get lucky and that sparks something and you take the book and you read it and then you read every other book that author wrote.

I always felt like the best way to be a great writer would be to read everything.

WS: When we come back from the break, Sam comes across a book filled with voices that excite him—and help him discover his own.

WS: Sam Anderson knew early that he wanted to be a great writer. By college, it was a full on obsession. He was spending almost all of his time reading and in libraries. And that’s exactly where he found one of the books that’s had the greatest impact on him.

SA: I think I must’ve found this collection in the library, The Art of the Personal Essay . Which, it’s funny looking at it, it’s this giant white book with a quill pen on the front and it just looks, with its title and everything, like the least exciting, most generic book of all time.

WS: The book, an anthology of personal essays compiled by Phillip Lopate, was far from that for Sam.

SA: To me it was like this revolutionary thing because it’s just stuffed with all of these voices. I mean, the kinds of voices I was talking about searching out in the library. It’s like, here is a book that is just 100 percent voices like that and so I just consumed it and I remember reading it and thinking, well, I need to own this. So I actually ordered it from our local bookstore and then I just carried it around with me everywhere and read that as I walked up and down the streets, going to college and back, and then trying out writing about different parts of my own life and exploring my own mind.

I think the first author in it is Seneca. So it starts back at first century AD in ancient Rome and then it goes all the way up through the 20th century. And you’ve got African American writers, and Asian writers, and Hispanic writers, so it really tries to cover this huge sweep of human history, and of human experience. It’s just this incredible party of voices. You won’t like every voice in there, but the ones that you connect with are going to be very, very exciting. They were for me.

WS: New to Sam, the personal essay quickly became a favorite form of writing.

SA: I think the most interesting thing about any of us is the voice that just plays in our heads all the time. And if you can manage to get that voice onto the page, it’s so powerful. Someone can connect with it in the space of a phrase or a sentence. Someone can be like, oh my gosh, it’s another human. And I think there’s a great paradox in personal writing, which is that the best way to connect, to actually really deeply connect with another person is to put yourself, as strange and idiosyncratic as you are, down on the page. So, it’s not to try to be general and to try to be a kind of everyman. It’s to be absolutely yourself, to be embarrassing, to be ridiculous, to be funny. If you can get it down honestly on the page, then I think another human will pick it up. And that’s the most exciting thing to me, is that transaction. So, it really starts with voice, and then I guess that’s the great opportunity of the genre is that voice is like a little electric current that you can shoot through anything, anything. So, I mean, you can talk about what you had for breakfast this morning. You could talk about your commute to work. You could talk about an interesting pair of shoes that you noticed. I mean, really, anything becomes a vehicle for that electric current, which is like whatever the living essence of being human.

WS: The anthology gave Sam the opportunity to experience a diverse array of writers, and the wide range of their styles and experiences encouraged him to develop his own voice.

SA: I feel like we tend to look past anthologies a little bit, you know, I mean, American culture is so kind of individualistic and star driven and all that. It’s kind of cool to say that you love a specific author. It’s much less cool to say, uh, I really liked this collection, this anthology, not even a short story collection or something by one writer, but this anthology. But they were hugely important to me growing up and learning how to write and finding the voices I was looking for. I would like to encourage everybody to pick up anthologies because it’s like the difference between sitting down for coffee with one person for two hours versus like going to a party and wandering around and seeing who you want to talk to. You just have a better chance of like finding your future best friend. It was Phillip Lopate. I think we should give people more credit for compiling these kinds of things. I can only imagine how much work went into reading through all of these different authors. And yeah, it’s something I’ve been reading now for decades.

WS: The Art of the Personal Essay not only affected what Sam was reading as he began to discover new authors, but also his own writing.

SA: It was kind of like this rocket fuel blasting me out of my adolescence and that feeling of being trapped and wanting to become something. I had been kind of trying to emulate this Dostoevskian sort of writing mode and imagined myself writing 800 page novels, and I just had none of the life experience. I didn’t have the temperament for it, it just wasn’t a fit. So my writing was awful and this immediately felt like a new door opening up that would lead me to writing that really connected with who I was and that I could sustain. And after I discovered the writers in this book, I started writing personal essays.

I wrote a personal essay, it was called “The Unexamined Life.” And it was about my fear that I had been, as an adolescent, dying of cancer, and I wouldn’t tell anybody. I have a lot of moles, and I had one removed at one point when I was probably 11 or something. And the doctor asked me, uh, do you have any other moles this large? It’s really important that you tell me. And at that moment I lied and I said, no, I don’t, because I had this giant mole right next to my penis.

So, I had this mole on my crotch that I could not bring myself to confess to having. And it became this thing that I worried about and obsessed over for years and years and years. And I was sure because he had been so adamant that I had to tell him, I was sure. And I remember flipping through medical books at my high school library, reading about melanoma and thinking, oh my God, I’ve got it, and I’m dying of cancer and I just can’t tell anyone. And it became this whole, internal melodrama for probably ten years. It turned out to be nothing.

WS: That piece went on to be Sam’s first published essay.

SA: So, that was like my first real writing victory and I think that grew directly out of marinating and all these voices in The Art of the Personal Essay .

WS: Sam went on to have many, many, many more essays published, working his way up the publishing ladder as a freelancer and eventually becoming the book critic at New York  Magazine and now, a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine . Earlier this year, he published Boom Town , a history of Oklahoma City that grew out of one of his pieces for magazine.

SA: I started doing research on the history of Oklahoma and immediately my mind was blown and I could not believe what I was reading. It’s just the most bizarre American history that I had no idea existed. And so I kind of braided that together with the basketball and with other things I found on the ground and with all these characters. And I just had this deep kind of personal feeling of connection to the place and that I had to write about it. And I had been waiting for a subject to force me to write a book about it forever. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t want to write a book about just anything and this was the subject that made me do it. Boom Town is actually a tad less personal than I would have imagined it being in the beginning. But there’s still, for all the reporting in it, a lot of personal inflection.

WS: The personal inflection that he began developing so many years ago, the moment he picked The Art of the Personal Essay off the shelf.

WS: You said that the book helped you find your voice. How would you describe your voice?

SA: That’s a great question. My voice and the personal essay…I would say it’s funny, I always try to be funny. I always load everything with jokes because I think that’s how I grew up with my friends. Again, it turned out to be a real strength not to grow up in a literary family, not to go to these elite schools and all this stuff because there was never any presumption for me that anyone else would be interested in what I was writing. And so I learned to use every tool that I had to make people interested in what I was writing. And so, a sense of humor is big there. I think I’m very curious, I love to go out in the world and just mine the most interesting facts I can find and do a lot of research. And so, I think it’s stuffed with interesting facts. Hopefully in a way that’s not lectury or dry. It’s like me-plus.

I think the personal essay does have an advantage in that connection I was talking about before, that kind of primal human connection with another voice, between the voice in your head and the voice of someone else’s head. I think it’s stronger than our connection to Twitter or our connection to our email or something like that—if you can make that connection. A lot of what I was doing was trying to be as enticing as the stuff I grew up watching and listening to, you know, Saturday night live or something. So you’ve got it. You’ve got to be creative like hand stories. You got to be as strange and weird as Hans Christian Andersen. You’ve got to sort of use every tool in that tool kit.

the art of a personal essay

WS: But That’s Another Story is produced by Katie Ferguson, with editing help from Alyssa Martino, Alex Abnos, and Becky Celestina. Thanks to Sam Anderson and Gwyneth Stansfield. If you’d like to learn more about the books we’ve mentioned in this week’s episode, you can find out more in our show notes. You can also find a transcript of this episode and past ones on Lit Hub. If you’ve been enjoying the show, please be sure to rate and review on iTunes—it really helps others discover the program. And subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen. If there’s a book that changed your life, we want to hear about it. Send us an email at [email protected]. We’ll be back with our next episode in two weeks.

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The Art of the Personal Essay

The Art of the Personal Essay

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内容简介  · · · · · ·

For more than four hundred years, the personal  essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant  of all literary forms. Distinguished from the  detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational  tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward  candor and self-disclosure, the personal essay  seizes on the minutiae of daily life-vanities,  fashions, foibles, oddballs, seas...

For more than four hundred years, the personal  essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant  of all literary forms. Distinguished from the  detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational  tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward  candor and self-disclosure, the personal essay  seizes on the minutiae of daily life-vanities,  fashions, foibles, oddballs, seasonal rituals, love and  disappointment, the pleasures of solitude,  reading, taking a walk -- to offer insight into the  human condition and the great social and political  issues of the day. The Art of the Personal Essay is  the first anthology to celebrate this fertile  genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal  essays, including influential forerunners from  ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East,  masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the  sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest  personal essays from the last four centuries, editor  Phillip Lopate, himself an acclaimed essayist,  displays the tradition of the personal essay in all  its historical grandeur, depth, and  diversity.

作者简介  · · · · · ·

Phillip Lopate is the author of the essay collections Against Joie de Vivre, Bachelorhood, and Portrait of My Body. He has also written the novels The Rug Merchant and Confessions of a Summer. Lopate is the editor of The Art of the Personal Essay and the Library of America’s Writing New York, as well as the series editor of The Art of the Essay. His film criticism appears regul...

Phillip Lopate is the author of the essay collections Against Joie de Vivre, Bachelorhood, and Portrait of My Body. He has also written the novels The Rug Merchant and Confessions of a Summer. Lopate is the editor of The Art of the Personal Essay and the Library of America’s Writing New York, as well as the series editor of The Art of the Essay. His film criticism appears regularly in The New York Times and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Phillip Lopate’s The Glorious American Essay was published by Pantheon Books in November 2020.

喜欢读"The Art of the Personal Essay"的人也喜欢  · · · · · ·

the art of a personal essay

短评  · · · · · ·  ( 全部 9 条 )

0 有用 小波福娃 2010-03-16 00:34:58.

选得比较好。。。好吧其实是陆爹爹推荐的所以才买了来读

1 有用 Envinyatar 2014-09-08 21:19:47

Catharsis is artistic because it preserves subjectivity with personal voice (esp. in post-Enlightenment isolation?).

0 有用 引歌 2014-03-04 12:11:34

0 有用 ashleigh 2011-03-01 20:53:22, 1 有用 momo 2019-01-29 15:35:16.

nonfiction essays by established authors

0 有用 JasmineG 2022-11-16 04:39:11 美国

0 有用 难受 2019-07-13 12:40:51, 0 有用 香槟超新星🍾 2019-02-01 18:46:59, 1 有用 jacob 2018-11-28 13:01:08.

学好英文, 阅读要广泛。时间有限, 当然要先读一些好文章。"The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present"是不错的选择。编者Phillip Lopate在美国一所大学里教授英语, 也从事essay写作。这本文选从古到今, 从法国到尼日利亚, 收集了不少佳作, 欧阳修的《画舫斋记》(... 学好英文, 阅读要广泛。时间有限, 当然要先读一些好文章。"The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present"是不错的选择。编者Phillip Lopate在美国一所大学里教授英语, 也从事essay写作。这本文选从古到今, 从法国到尼日利亚, 收集了不少佳作, 欧阳修的《画舫斋记》("Pleasure Boat Studio")也在其中, 还有鲁迅的两篇文章。美国作家Gore Vidal一篇回忆剧作家Tennessee Williams的文章也被选入, 它就是"Some Memories of the Glorious Bird and an Earlier Self"。 ( 展开 )

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COMMENTS

  1. Phillip Lopate The Art Of The Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  2. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  3. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Cl…

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  4. The Art of the Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  5. The Art of the Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  6. The Art of the Personal Essay by Lopate, Phillip

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  7. The Art of the Personal Essay Summary

    The Art of the Personal Essay is a thorough reference source that will appeal to either the student or the general reader. Ironically, because the personal essay proliferated with the growth in ...

  8. The Art of the Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  9. The Art of the Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the…. Keep Reading. Read an Excerpt.

  10. The Art of the personal essay : an anthology from the classical era to

    The Art of the personal essay : an anthology from the classical era to the present. Publication date 1995 Topics Essays, Essays -- Translations into English ... Internet Archive Language English. liv, 777 pages : 24 cm More than 75 essays trace the development of the literary form from classical examples to contemporary English and American writers

  11. The Art of the Personal Essay Summary

    In his nonfiction book The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present (1994), American literary critic Phillip Lopate explores the history of personal essay-writing, from the first century C.E. up to the modern era in America. Lopate finds these essays to be a crucial component to understanding the lifestyles and social mores of people throughout history.

  12. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the ...

    For more than four hundred years the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms. The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this lively, fertile genre. Distinguished from the formal essay by its friendly, conversational tone, its drive toward candor and confession, and its often quirky first-person voice, the personal essay offers ...

  13. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to

    The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present is a teachers and writers collaborative book expounding the personal essay. Lopate believes intimacy is the hallmark of the personal essay, with "the writer seemingly speaking directly into the reader's ear, confiding everything from gossip to wisdom." ...

  14. From The Art of the Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  15. The Art of the personal essay : an anthology from the classical era to

    The Art of the personal essay : an anthology from the classical era to the present. Publication date 1994 Topics Essays, Essays -- Translations into English Publisher New York : Anchor Books Collection printdisabled; internetarchivebooks; inlibrary Contributor Internet Archive Language

  16. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  17. The Art of the Personal Essay

    Through sharing thoughts, memories, desires, complaints, and whimsies, the personal essayist sets up a relationship with the reader, a dialogue--a friendship, if you will, based on identification, understanding, testiness, and companionship. The personal essayist must above all be a reliable narrator; we must trust his or her core of sincerity.

  18. The Art of the Personal Essay

    The Art of the Personal Essay. by Phillip Lopate. About the Book. For more than four hundred years, the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms. Distinguished from the detached formal essay by its friendly, conversational tone, its loose structure, and its drive toward candor and self-disclosure, the ...

  19. Phillip Lopate Celebrates the Personal Essay

    Phillip Lopate Celebrates the Personal Essay. ne day in the 1980s, the writer Phillip Lopate '64CC stood before the bookcase of a vacation home he had rented for the summer, looking for something to read. His eyes fell on a volume by William Hazlitt, and though Lopate wasn't deeply familiar with the Romantic Age essayist and critic, he ...

  20. Sam Anderson: How The Art of the Personal Essay Changed My Life

    WS: Sam Anderson is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, and has written for Slate, New York Magazine, and many, many more. He's also won the National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism. He's been doing this a long time. And Sam has known from the start that this is exactly what he was meant to do.

  21. The Art of the Personal Essay (豆瓣)

    The Art of the Personal Essay is the first anthology to celebrate this fertile genre. By presenting more than seventy-five personal essays, including influential forerunners from ancient Greece, Rome, and the Far East, masterpieces from the dawn of the personal essay in the sixteenth century, and a wealth of the finest personal essays from the ...

  22. The Art of the Personal Essay

    Now essay writing is its own artform; even though it has many affinities with the short story and even the novel -- e.g., conjuring of atmosphere, immediacy, a tripartite structure that tends toward a conclusion and even, in the best essays, builds suspense -- a personal essay is just that, personal, and while it must show itself to the reader ...

  23. Amazon.com: The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the

    Amazon.com: The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present: 8601420281127: PhillipLopate: Books. Skip to main content.us. Delivering to Lebanon 66952 Update location Books. Select the department you want to search in ...