Best American Essays 2016 (2016) by Robert Atwan
A true essay can be described as something that is not definitive or authoritative, but rather something that is ventured based on the author’s personal experience and subjectivity. This is the viewpoint shared by Jonathan Franzen, the guest editor of The Best American Essays 2016. However, Franzen’s main criteria for selecting essays for this collection was the element of risk. Whether it was championing an unpopular opinion, risking professional ruin, or offending loved ones, Franzen believes that the writer must be willing to run straight into the flames, just like a firefighter.
The Best American Essays 2016 features a diverse range of authors, including Alexander Chee, Paul Crenshaw, Jaquira Díaz, Laura Kipnis, Amitava Kumar, Sebastian Junger, Joyce Carol Oates, Oliver Sacks, Thomas Chatterton Williams, and others.
Jonathan Franzen, the guest editor, is a well-known author with five novels to his name, including the recent release, Purity. He has also written five works of nonfiction and translation, such as Farther Away and The Kraus Project. Franzen is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the German Akademie der Künste, and the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Robert Atwan, the series editor of The Best American Essays since its inception in 1986, is a versatile writer who has published on a wide variety of topics. His work spans from American advertising and early photography to ancient divination and Shakespeare. Atwan’s criticism, essays, humor, poetry, and fiction have been featured in numerous periodicals across the country.
How to Make a Slave and The Best American Essays 2020: An Evening with Jerald Walker and Robert Atwan.
Hmm Good Evening Virtual Audience – A Virtual Event with Gerald Walker and Robert Atwan
Thank you for joining us tonight for this special virtual event with authors Gerald Walker and Robert Atwan. My name is Maurice Lafleur and I am pleased to be hosting this event on behalf of Harvard Bookstore. In these unprecedented times, virtual events like this allow us to continue bringing authors and their work to our community. We have a great lineup of events planned on our Zoom account, and you can find all the details on our website at Harvard.com/events. Don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter and browse our bookshelves from the comfort of your home. We appreciate your support and contributions to help us keep our independent bookstore thriving. Thank you for being here tonight, and let’s get started!
Introductions and Discussion
Gerald Walker is a professor of creative writing at Emerson College and the author of several books, including “The World in Flames” and “Street Shadows.” His latest book, “How to Make a Slave and Other Essays,” has received critical acclaim and is a finalist for the National Book Award. Tonight, he will be in conversation with Robert Atwan, the series editor of “The Best American Essays” since 1986. Robert is a renowned essayist and editor and has curated numerous literary anthologies throughout his career. Let’s welcome Gerald and Robert to the virtual podium!
Gerald and Robert engage in a lively discussion about the art of writing essays and the challenges and joys they experience in their craft. They touch upon topics such as the importance of personal identity and memory in writing, the need for essays to be exciting and engaging, and the impact of the current era of fake news on the genre. Both authors share their insights and perspectives, offering valuable advice to aspiring writers and essayists.
The Essence of an Essay – Struggling with Ideas
What exactly defines an essay? Gerald emphasizes that an essay is like thinking aloud, a reflection of one’s consciousness. It’s a form of writing that explores ideas and differing perspectives, without necessarily aiming for a definitive conclusion. Essays are about the journey of exploration and discovery, rather than just stating a single viewpoint.
Robert highlights the importance of an essay being exciting and engaging. It should surprise readers, challenge their thinking, and offer fresh perspectives. A good essay allows the reader to experience the writer’s presence and voice, creating a connection between the two.
They also discuss the challenges of writing essays, particularly in the era of fake news. While being truthful is important, essays are not bound by the same criteria as journalism. As writers, it’s essential to focus on convincing readers through craft and mastery, rather than just adhering to verifiable facts.
Selecting and Ordering Essays
Gerald discusses his process of selecting and ordering the essays in his book. Since the collection was written over a period of time, there was no predetermined plan for its compilation. However, when assembling the book, he aimed to create a narrative arc that would connect the essays together. He ordered them chronologically, either by his age or his son’s age, to create a coherent flow and progression.
Robert explains that when curating “The Best American Essays,” he looks for exceptional essays rather than focusing on creating a specific theme or narrative connection between them. He believes that essays should stand alone and be appreciated individually for their quality and content.
This virtual event with Gerald Walker and Robert Atwan sheds light on the art of writing essays and offers insights into this unique genre. The discussion explores the essence of an essay, the challenges and joys of writing in this form, and the importance of selecting and ordering essays to create a coherent collection. It provides valuable advice for aspiring writers and sheds light on the significance of essays in the current era. We hope you enjoyed this event and thank you for joining us virtually!