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November 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more The Free MFA in Creative Nonfiction
Our appetite for reality, both in TV and books, has spurred the growth of creative nonfiction (CNF) MFA programs across the country—unfortunately, it hasn’t lowered their tuition rates one bit. As a service to aspiring CNF writers (whose work we one day hope to review), Booklist is offering you the first year of your MFA absolutely free. That’s right: no application fee! No three-year commitment! No need to quit your job or take out more student loans! Instead, all you have to do to seize this amazing deal is run down to your local library and check out these books. 1
The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Ed. by Phillip Lopate. 1994. Anchor, paper, $21 (9780385423397).
Before you can go forward with your own CNF writing, you have to go back and glean wisdom from the greats. This massive anthology gives you a sense of the CNF canon, at least as far as living-legend Lopate (Portrait of My Body, 1996) sees it.
Between Panic and Desire. By Dinty W. Moore. 2008. Univ. of Nebraska, paper, $14.95 (9780803229822).
Who knew CNF included quizzes and pop-culture trivia? Dinty—that’s who. “Between panic and desire” doesn’t sound like a fun place to be, but Dinty plays diverting games with the form of the essay throughout this entire book.
In the City: Random Acts of Awareness. By Colette Brooks. 2002. Norton, $23.95 (9780393051087).
Brooks brings the walking essay, a classic writing form, into the twenty-first century. In a time when memoirs are the hottest thing around, it’s great to read a work of CNF that’s more interested in observing and asking questions than finding oneself or disclosing family secrets.
The Lost Origins of the Essay. Ed. by John D’Agata. 2009. Graywolf, paper, $23 (9781555975326).
Lost Origins is the perfect foil to Lopate’s anthology. D’Agata highlights essay writers long ignored by Lopate and others in the field. In the selections where the anthologies do overlap, the editors’ introductions couldn’t be more different. Reading both of these shows how the word “essay” can mean very different things to different writers.
Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. By Eula Biss. 2009. Graywolf, paper, $15 (9781555975180).
Suspense, intrigue, and mind-blowing revelations aren’t characteristics we regularly associate with the term “essay,” but these are truly the forces at work in this collection. The first essay, “Time and Distance Overcome,” is a tour de force all its own. Reading Biss shows just what great things young writers (or, young-ish writers—under 40, that is) are capable of.
The Situation and the Story: The Art of the Personal Narrative. By Vivian Gornick. 2002. Farrar, paper, $15 (9780374528584).
This book about the writer’s craft posits many helpful theories for those nonfiction writers inclined toward the narrative essay. Gornick’s clear delineations—between essay and memoir, writer and persona, situation and story—illuminate the fundamentals of the field like nobody else.
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. By David Foster Wallace. 1997. Little, Brown, paper, $14.99 (9780316925280).
DFW left his mark on more than just CNF, but these essays demonstrate his impressive range in the genre and showcase his laugh-out-loud humor. Essays “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” and “Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All” show budding writers that it is possible to both entertain readers and create awe-inspiring literary art at the same time. 2
The Year of Magical Thinking. By Joan Didion. 2005. Knopf , paper, $14.95 (9781400078431).
The queen of CNF must be on any first-year MFA reading list. Whether reading this National Book Award winner or her earlier works, such as Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968), emerging writers get a crash course from her highness on how to make every word count and how to avoid committing the most common CNF sin: self-pity.
The Booklist Free MFA in Creative Nonfiction is not responsible for library late fees. With a required reading list this long, you will be hitting that “renew” button like nobody’s business.
You’ll also find out who’s to blame for making every CNF writer want to try their hand at footnotes (at least once).
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