Personal Essay Anthologies

D’Agata, whose first anthology did not appear until 2003, has hardly saved the genre from oblivion. Of course, D’Agata would say that the essays he collects are not essays, or not those kinds of essays.

They are “lyric” essays—something altogether different. They deal not in information or assertion but in ambivalence and ambiguity; in emotion, exploration, and suggestion.

D’Agata’s rationale for his “new history,” to the extent that one can piece it together from the headnotes that preface each selection, goes something like this.

The conventional essay, nonfiction as it is, is nothing more than a delivery system for facts.

Every piece of this is false in one way or another.

College Common App Essay - Personal Essay Anthologies

There are genres whose principal business is fact—journalism, history, popular science—but the essay has never been one of them.And what makes a personal essay an essay and not just an autobiographical narrative is precisely that it uses personal material to develop, however speculatively or intuitively, a larger conclusion.Near the end of the title essay in Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, to take the most celebrated recent example, we read the following: “Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us …It’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves.” The movement that culminates in that passage—from instance to precept, from observation to idea—is the hallmark of the essay.conceptually and psychologically, appears to begin with the term nonfiction.Nonfiction is the source of the narcissistic injury that seems to drive him.If the form possesses a defining characteristic, it is that the essay makes an argument (and does so, unlike academic writing and other forms, for a general rather than a specialized audience).That argument can rest on fact, but it can also rest on anecdote, or introspection, or cultural interpretation, or some combination of all these and more.He gives us Jean Toomer’s “Blood-Burning Moon” and Renata Adler’s “Brownstone” (short stories), T. What we really seem to get in D’Agata’s trilogy, in other words, is a compendium of writing that the man himself just happens to like, or that he wants to appropriate as a lineage for his own work.To be sure, there does appear to be a kind of prose that he’s particularly partial to and that is mainly what he seems to have in mind when he talks about the lyric essay.As for the essay—a form whose exponents in English had included, from the 1860s to the 1960s, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, and James Baldwin—its prestige was never less than high, and the emergence of creative nonfiction as a rallying point (and of the memoir as a publishing phenomenon) was soon followed by that of the personal essay, in particular, as an increasingly prominent and celebrated genre.The annual Best American Essays debuted in 1986, the first addition to the Best American franchise since the series was launched (with The Best American Short Stories) in 1915.


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