What Makes a Good Essay?

  Michele Filgate interviews Leslie Jaminson and Roxanne Gay on their two recent essay collections.  Both agree that a good essay needs to look both inward and outward, combining personal experience and larger cultural ideas, all grounded upon a creativity and intellectual rigor. Well, going along with what both of you said, I wanted to… Read more »

Beyond the Personal

Leslie Jamison describes her sense of the personal essay and its connections to journalism and critical writing.  Her recent collection of essays entitled “The Empathy Exams” combine the personal with the the cultural.  “I’m interested,” she writes, “in essays that follow the infinitude of a private life toward the infinitude of public experience.”   In… Read more »

The Particularities of Their Bodies

The mysteries of sexual desires have for years provoked theories and laws keen on containing, erasing, or improving our sexual lives. Sexual stories illuminate personal as well as cultural insights. Richard Williams went searching for the ways architecture affects how we have sex. Here Bryan Thomas Rice relates the pleasurable paradox of his obsessions with anonymous sex…. Read more »

The Shape of the Essay

Despite what teachers might have taught you, essays often lack a singular form.  Instead they take shape in more organic ways, and resist, as Tim Bascon writes, “predicable approaches.”  But between pure freedom and dogmatic structure, Bascon diagrams a few ways of thinking about the shape and direction an essay can take.  In these approaches,… Read more »

Alibis We Live By

James Polchin explores how writing can reshape what we know about our past and ourselves in his review of Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere by Andre Aciman. What happens after the essay is written? This was the question that André Aciman raised a couple of weeks ago in a talk at The Jewish Museum in New… Read more »