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 literary attention that has been given to other literary forms. Patricia Hampl explores F. Scott Fitzgerald's famously confessional "The Crack-Up" from what was once his grandmother's house in St. Paul, Minnesota; Sven Birkerts compares the power of Cynthia Ozick's brief essay "A Drugstore in Winter" to "watching an enormous jet achieve lift-off from the shortest little patch of tarmac;" and Gayle Pemberton turns to Ralph Ellison for a "bracing blast of air" when the racism in contemporary American culture seems inescapable. At once personal appreciation's and acute critical assessments, these pieces broaden our perspective on the essay as a literary art form.
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.