The Essayest American Essays 2006

This first edition of the "Essayest American Essays" was gathered together by the students of my winter 2007 English 495 (History and Theory of the Essay) senior seminar. They spent a semester of intense study of essays (and essays on the essay) from Montaigne to the present, then set out to find the most essayistic (the "essayest") essays published in American literary journals in 2006. Not all essays have accompanying text, which is a shame, but each essay is truly excellent.

You may also be interested in past lists:

Chris Arthur
“Room, Empty”

Southwest Review 91.3 (Fall 2006): 295-312.

Without anything remotely resembling a story or a plot, Christ Arthur meditates on being, memory, presence, and absence, spurred by the thought of his soon-to-be-sold family home, specifically, the drawing room, which is "soon to be empty of us." For a glimpse of how essayistic this piece is, consider that after only two sentences beginning the essay, Arthur spends the next two pages digressing, questioning his own word choices, wondering at the inadequacy of presence and curiously and empty. Arthur's earnest, self-doubting, philosophical voice holds together seemingly disparate ideas, from perspective to liminality to the Buddhist concept of sunyata (voidness), offering along the way countless aphoristic gems, such as "The metaphysical is so tightly embedded in what we take to be the mundane,...the philosophical is so close-threaded all through the everyday." A quotidian sentiment, indeed, and, on the whole, a wonderful essay.

Selected by Patrick Madden

Gina Barreca
“Jealousy, or the Autobiography of an Italian Woman”

Creative Nonfiction 30 (2006): 211-222.

Selected by Catherine Curtis and Julianne Sheffield

Jennifer Brice
“In Praise of the Perfect White T-Shirt”

Under the Sun 11.1 (Summer 2006): 39-54.

Selected by David Grover and Kelly Monson

Mary Cappello
“Awkwardness: An Excerpt”

Western Humanities Review 58.2 (Fall 2004): [need info].

Mary Cappello touches on a quintessential quotidian theme in this essay. As she reflects on the various angles from which a person experiences awkwardness, she draws the reader into self-reflection. But Cappello does more than merely reflect on various awkward moments. She plays with the concept of awkwardness and even the very word itself. This conceptual wordplay makes this essay both a pleasure to read and an opportunity to explore the more uncomfortable realms of the human experience.

Selected by Joseph Gale and Becky Jensen

[Note: "Awkwardness" was published in 2004, not 2006. Joseph and Becky misunderstood the assignment, thus they delved into older issues. We're glad they did. The essay stays on the list.]

Anne Goldman
“Stargazing in the Atomic Age”

The Georgia Review 90.2 (Summer 2006): 271-291.

Selected by Patrick Madden

Kathryn Harrison
“The Forest of Memory”

Salmagundi 152 (Fall 2006): 46-55.

Kathryn Harrison investigates memory as a means of perceiving reality.  An only child, she questions her own ability to remember clearly the morning when she found her mother had disappeared from her grandparents’ house Christmas evening.  Without siblings or parents to inform who she is, Harrison worries that her memories are not fixed but are susceptible to revision; they loosely cradle the “slippery entity” of the self.  Despite efforts to remember things as they "really" were, our memories are informed by our “highly permeable assemblage of loves and fears and plans, strengths and frailties, desire and dread and the intent—dimly conscious at best—to manage all these…”

Selected by Afton Johnson and Stacy Serafine

Steven Harvey
“Kindly Dark”

River Teeth 8.1 (Fall 2006): 17-20.

Selected by Joey Franklin and John Madsen

Robin Hemley
“Jim’s Corner”

Fourth Genre 8.1 (Spring 2006): 109-114.

Selected by Lara Burton

Pablo Medina
“A Cuban Poet in New York”

Indiana Review 28.1 (Summer 2006): 149-155.

Selected by Amy Jones and Lauren Shaw

Kimberly Meyer
“Nietzsche and Me”

The Southern Review 42.1 (Winter 2006): [?].

Kimberly Meyer explores the evolution of her beliefs, both religious and otherwise, through her explication on how she found, loved, and then became disillusioned with Nietzsche's philosophies. Simultaneously, she reflects on her childhood, young adulthood, and motherhood. The essay is honest and contemplative, leaning toward memoir, though it taps into essayistic exploration towards the end when Meyer begins to look into the layered meanings of vulnerability.

Selected by Nick Castellanos and Amanda Dambrink

Roger Schmidt
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackboard”

Raritan 25.3 (Winter 2006): 47-69.

Selected by Ryan Blodgett and Alison Roberg

Paul Winner
“Found”

Seneca Review 36.2 ([which?] 2006): 48-67.

Selected by Lara Burton