Understanding the Essay

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9781554810208: Understanding the Essay
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This is a book on how to read the essay, one that demonstrates how reading is inextricably tied to the art of writing. It aims to treat the essay with the close attention that has been given to other literary genres, and in doing so it suggests the beauty and depth of the form as a whole. At once personal appreciations and acute critical assessments, the pieces collected here broaden our perspective on the essay as a major literary art, tracing its history from William Hazlitt to Joan Didion.

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About the Author:

Patricia Foster is the author of All the Lost Girls (2000) and Just beneath My Skin (2004) and the forthcoming novel Girl from Soldier Creek (2012). She has received a PEN/Jerard Fund Award for nonfiction, a Florida Arts Council Award, a Dean’s Scholar Award, and the Fred Bonnie Award for a first novel. She is Professor of English at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the MFA Program in Nonfiction.

Jeff Porter is the author of Oppenheimer Is Watching Me (2007). His essays have appeared in Antioch Review, Isotope, Northwest Review, Shenandoah, Missouri Review, Hotel Amerika, Wilson Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, Blackbird, and other journals. He is Associate Professor of English at the University of Iowa, where he teaches in the MFA Program in Nonfiction.

Review:

Understanding the Essay is a magnificently intelligent examination of the essay’s diverse pleasures, with fresh, revealing looks at writers from Montaigne to David Foster Wallace. Bravo to Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter for providing this important, insightful, readable resource. Teachers, students, and essayists will be bending back pages and marking the margins for years to come.” ― Dinty W. Moore, author of Crafting the Personal Essay

Understanding the Essay is a warm and intelligent addition to our understanding of a form seemingly built for confusion. Foster and Porter know their subject: the subtle demands and inventions of the form; the tension between a narrator and her unsettled sibling, the author; the importance of integrity to both the known and the inventive voice. The brief biographies create a nuanced context in which to read the work; the analytic essays offer insight into work we think we know―or have yet to explore―in such a way that we can read as though for the first time.” ― Sallie Tisdale

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