Personal Essays Archive

The Canonization of John Kennedy Toole

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We’ve spent so much time discussing Ignatius Reilly: his multi-dimensional, timeless creation, but have ignored saying the obvious about John Kennedy Toole—that much of the Dunces mythos is built on the back of his suicide.

Contemplating Infinity

Hilary Leichter’s debut novel is a shifting, surrealist tale of a young woman’s search for permanent employment that deftly captures the anguish of living inside such existential uncertainty, and more terrifying, the potential infinity of it.

Writing a Home for All My Ghosts

A home doesn’t feel like a home when there are structures built to immortalize those who dehumanized entire populaces. But it feels a little more like home when we’re marching, when we fill spaces with our bodies, our friends, our loves, our strangers, shouting out the names of the

The Shape of Nations

One cannot simply outgrow or outlive a colonial, racist history. In order for the system to change, we need to stare at it and acknowledge it for what it is.

Fiction and Fault in the Age of Heroin

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I remember the books I brought to the sober home. I started talking to the other residents about them, even though I’d never opened them up. I would say this or that, something arbitrary or vague. It was intoxicating to displace myself, to wash myself with fictions I couldn’t

Reading The Book of Men

Nano Shabtai’s 2015 book feels especially personal to me. For the past three years, I’ve been working on a memoir about how the world of relationships is experienced through the eyes of a woman who is often troubled by sex but has been instructed her entire life to prioritize

The Angel in the Woods

Emily Dickinson knew that modesty and self-confidence, blended together, would disarm her reader and delight and mystify the people around her. Shirking conventionality offered her a modicum of freedom and enlarged her presence simultaneously; she was both eccentric spinster and white-clad angel, depending on how you saw her.

Reading City Without People: The Katrina Poems in an Isolated New Orleans

There’s a line in Niyi Osundare’s 2011 book that goes, “Enia lasoo mi,” which translates from Yoruba to English as, “People are my clothes.” Waking up to a seemingly emptied New Orleans, Christopher Romaguera had that line on his mind.

The Many Disappearances in Run Me to Earth

In Paul Yoon’s new novel, we become witnesses to the many disappearances that punctuate war-torn lives: of neighbors, memories, motorcycles, colonizers, baskets, friends, body parts, names. Some of these disappearances, however, like new continents emerging from volcanic eruptions, lay the ground for Yoon’s characters’ destinies.

Reading Annihilation

The first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy does not balk at the sheer futility of humanity in the face of natural forces, but it doesn’t wholly destroy all who enter it, either. Instead, it returns readers to the sublime aspect of nature—the understanding that it can be