Critical Essays Archive

Jesmyn Ward’s and William Faulkner’s Apocryphal Counties

Like Faulkner, Jesmyn Ward sets all her novels in a town loosely based on her own hometown in Mississippi, mapping a terrain that holds the various human experiences within its topographical confines.

In Defense of the Unsatisfying Ending: The Virgin Suicides

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When I read this passage at fifteen years old, I was furious. I thought this ending, which centered the boys’ narrative over the girls’, undermined everything that came before. I felt dissatisfied, like I had been cheated out of a proper ending. But that frustration was ultimately very productive.

Two Views of Revision: Elizabeth Bishop and May Swenson

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If Bishop’s "One Art" shows a clear tightening and precision and a shedding of awkwardness into maturity, Swenson’s drafts show us that sometimes an artist simply makes a choice to fit a particular aesthetic preference or vision.

Jerika Marchan’s Poetry of Hurricane Katrina

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The aftermath of disaster is difficult to measure. The answer changes depending on your metric of loss: number of deaths, houses destroyed, families displaced. Some measures go beyond numbers. You can’t graph grief, hope, trauma, or what it took to survive. But you can collect them in poetry.

Privilege and Author Interviews

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The first literary interviews I remember reading were those conducted by my undergraduate poetry professor, a white man of a certain age. They were compiled in a collection published by a university press in 1983. White men were asking most of the questions, and white men were answering.

Photography and Language in John McPhee’s “Under the Cloth”

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The view camera creates a particular kind of image through extreme pause and meticulous composition; by writing about a view camera, McPhee creates a particular kind of essay, one that uses the techniques of both view camera photography and narrative.

Writing in the In-Between

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Writers squeeze writing in between their full-time work, even if they don’t talk about it. Journalist and TV anchor Jake Tapper did just that in writing his political thriller, which he wrote sometimes in intervals of only fifteen minutes at a time.

The Enduring Allure of Literary Provence

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Provence is one of these regions, like Bordeaux and the Atlantic seaboard, that have always had a strong connection to Anglophone cultures, starting in the seventeenth century when the court of the House of Stuart went into exile in Avignon.

Under His Eye: On The Little Clan by Iris Martin Cohen

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The world of Ava Gallanter, the protagonist of Iris Martin Cohen’s debut novel, is very small. It consists of the library, hallways, and apartments of the Lazarus Club, a prestigious private members club where she works as a librarian. It is the world of Dead White Men.

Robert F. Kennedy and the Ancient Greeks of Edith Hamilton

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Hamilton’s reconstruction of Athenian tragedy, Americanized to focus on individual “poetically transmuted pain,” appealed to Robert F. Kennedy.