There has been a lot of discussion in writing circles recently about the fate of the personal essay. I say recently, but in fact this is a debate that has been going on for a long time. Virgina Woolf, always ahead of her time, was grumbling about personal essays as long ago as 1905.
Anyway, back in May, Jia Tolentino wrote a piece in the New Yorker arguing that The Personal-Essay Boom is Over (and then, ironically enough, sold a collection of her personal essays to Random House). It spawned many thoughtful and interesting responses, including this feminist defence of the form by New School Professor Susan Shapiro, this wonderful piece about parenting essays by Lauren Apfel at Motherwell, and this piece by Kath Kenny in The Conversation.
If you’ve grown up online, as I have, you will likely have read hundreds, if not thousands of personal essays. It’s true that many of them – the poorly written, exploitative clickbait articles that were the focus of Laura Bennet’s excellent Slate piece back in 2015 – should never have been published.
But it’s also true that a well written personal essay can be a truly beautiful thing. I have a folder on my desktop of saved pieces that I return to again and again: astonishing, illuminating essays about what it means to find your home, to be a mother, to love and laugh and live. Continue reading “20 Places to Read Great Personal Essays”