Critical Essays Archive

Pictures of You: Understanding Life Through Memoirs

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The need to figure out why we are who we are is what drew me to Elissa Altman’s memoir Treyf, a bittersweet and touching memoir of the author’s growing up years in 1970s New York City and Queens.

Expecting the Fish of Anguish: For the Love of the Non Sequitur

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Perhaps in times like these, when the work of making sense of the world around us gets harder, we need poetry that points toward that difficulty—and that makes that work worthwhile.

Resistance at Bryce Dessner and Richard Reed Parry’s Black Mountain Songs

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There’s a similar simplicity to Black Mountain Songs. “The spirit of learning through doing and emphasis on self-exploration for both teachers and students,” was one of the qualities of Black Mountain College Dessner hoped to convey with the performance.

The Object in Writing and Art

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I learned how to write by going to art school and becoming a visual artist. Color, light, perspective, scale—I use these same visual tools in my writing. But of all the practices I use as an artist, the practice of using objects has helped my writing most.

So Your Character Wants to Be a Historian

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There’s no easy way to actually quantify this, but it feels like more and more characters I see in books are historians of some kind – regardless of their status, amateur or professional, these are characters who do sleuthing work about the past, consciously or not.

Girls Looking in the Mirror

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As a teenager, I suffered long bouts of gazing into the mirror. Time fell away and I went into a kind of deliberate stupor. I thought if I stared long enough, I might forget who I was looking at, and—for a moment—see myself as others saw me.

Pensando en Puerto Rico

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Marigloria Palma renders the spectrality of her island—the willful legal, economic, and social (which is all to say: racist) invisibilities that have intentioned to create humanitarian crisis and impending exodus in the hurricane’s wake. “We’re dying here. We truly are dying here.”

The Death of the Reader

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I wanted to begin this piece with a line like: “It’s dead, thank God” but Barthelme beat me to the punch thirty years ago in his essay “Not-Knowing.”

Why Does Cover Design Matter?

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In the space of a second spent looking at a book’s cover, we reach certain conclusions about its content. An internalized pool of knowledge built on years of reading experience gives us a clue as to how serious/funny/strange the book is likely to be.

Disgust and Tenderness in Greenwell’s What Belongs to You

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Garth Greenwell’s debut novel What Belongs to You is a beautiful and heartbreaking meditation on how we learn to fill the emotional space between ourselves and others.