The Art of the Personal Essay
"One writes out of one thing only -- one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art." Launching ourselves from James Baldwin’s assertion, in this seminar will examine the artfulness of the personal essay by reading and critiquing examples from the genre’s beginnings in Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (“attempts”) in the 1580s, through such major modern American essayists as E.B. White, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Stephen Jay Gould, to the contemporary scene of Dave Eggers, David Sederis, and emerging graphic essayists . What is essential to the genre? What has changed and continues to change? We will also attempt to force the last drops from our own personal experience.