Art of the Essay
EL 238, Summer 2010
Recommended Texts and Resources
This list is very selective since its goal is just to give you some good places to start further reading. If you want further suggestions, or you have some of your own, let me know. As I will say in class, I find author interviews, such as those you'll find in journals like The Paris Review, at least as helpful as any of the books here, so in addition to sampling titles here, try a used bookstore and hunt through back issues of journals for interviews with authors you admire.
Introductions to Writing Creative Nonfiction
Lee Gutkind. The Art Of Creative Nonfiction. Wiley, 1997.
A standard text for creative nonfiction courses. See also the web site of the journal Gutkind founded and edits, Creative Nonfiction.
Carolyn Forché and Philip Gerard. Writing Creative Nonfiction. Associated Writing Programs/Story Press, 2001.
Another text frequently used in nonfiction courses. Basic, but useful for the beginner.
Richard Rhodes. How to Write. Perennial, 1996 (reprint).
Rhodes, a Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, does a nice job on many fronts—craft, process, and philosophy. Discusses fiction but the focus here is on non-fiction.
Theodore Rees Cheney. Writing Creative Nonfiction: Fiction Techniques for Crafting Great Nonfiction. Ten Speed Press, 2001.
A well organized discussion of how to apply the techniques of fiction in non-fiction. Good sections on creating telling detail and speech.
Robert L. Root & Michael Steinberg, eds. The Fourth Genre: Contemporary Writers Of/On Creative Nonfiction. Longman, 2002.
An nice anthology of short reflective pieces on creative non-fiction. Not a how-to guide.
Robert Atwan. The Best American Essays. Houghton Mifflin, annually 1986-present.
Each year a prominent American essayist edits this collection and writes an introductory essay that reflects on the nature, purpose, and craft of the non-fiction essay. These introductory essays are almost always entertaining and instructive. Guest editors include Stephen Jay Gould, Cynthia Ozick, Tracy Kidder, Susan Sontag, Gay Talese, Annie Dillard, and Joyce Carol Oates (who also edited The Best American Essays of the Century).
Texts on the Craft of Writing
Janet Burroway. Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft. Lomgman, 2003.
Widely used in writing classes and quite good—considered advice, useful exercises, well-written. Covers fiction and non-fiction forms.
John Gardner. The Art of Fiction. Vintage, 1983.
Grumpy, philosophical and sometimes obsessive but for my money still one of the best books on writing. The subject is fiction, but many of the lessons offered apply equally to creative nonfiction. Some useful exercises at the end. If you like his approach, also have a look at two of his other books, On Becoming a Novelist and On Moral Fiction.
Madison Smartt Bell. Narrative Design: Working with Imagination, Craft and Form. W.W. Norton, 2000.
A thoughtful, detailed, and fabulously useful examination of narrative. Analyzes both linear and modular structures by examining in detail a dozen stories by the likes of Peter Taylor, George Garrett, and Mary Gaitskill.
David Lodge. The Art of Fiction, 1992.
This is a terrific, accessible collection of 50 short essays, each on a different element of craft. Lodge, an English novelist who has twice been shortlisted for the Booker prize, uses passages from classic novels and stories to illustrate common elements of craft (point of view, symbolism) , specific devices (unreliable narrator, lists), and and sub-genres (the epistolary novel, metafiction).
Francine Prose. Reading Like a Writer, HarperCollins, 2006.
A tour of craft by an accomplished novelist, based on her years of teaching writing workshops. Prose devotes chapters to traditional elements such as character and dialogue, but also to less commonly analyzed units of writing (these days) such as gesture. Each chapter looks closely at how the masters like Chekhov (her favorite) have approached, for example, describing a place, creating suspense, or narrative arc.
Jerome Stern. Making Shapely Fiction. W.W. Norton, 2000.
Another standard text in creative writing programs. Coneptualizes elements of craft a bit differently than other authors here do, so if you don't click with Burroway, Bell, Koch or Gardner, try him. Great lists (dos/don'ts, terminology, etc) that are at once useful and funny.
Stephen Koch. The Modern Library Writer's Workshop. Modern Library, 2003.
Presents, as he says in the introduction, the "consensus among writers about the basics of their craft." Well organized and strong on process.
Various. Elements of Writing Fiction. Originally published by F&W, all reissued through Writer's Digest Books.
This is a useful series, with each guide written by a different author: Description, Monica Wood; Plot, Ansen Dibell; Characters and Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card; Scene and Structure, Jack Bickham.
Alice LaPlante. The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Writing Fiction and Nonfiction. W.W. Norton, 2007.
Wide-ranging and perceptive, with good analyses of stories by the likes of Lorrie Moore, John Cheever, and Maxine Hong Kingston. Also contains good exercises.
Texts on the Writing Process and the Creative Process
Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird. Doubleday, 1994.
An accomplished local describes the process. Funny, instructive, and heartening.
Stephen King. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2000.
For those who know him only as the King of Horror, you'll be surprised—an inspirational little book on craft and process.
Ray Bradbury. Zen in the Art of Writing. Bantam, 1990.
Like King's book, accessible, inspirational, and reflective about both craft and process.
Natalie Goldberg. Writing Down the Bones. Random House, 1986.
A Buddhist-inflected take on the creative process. Her later books are also terrific.
Julia Cameron. The Artist’s Way. Putnam, 1992.
A classic on discovering or invigorating creative potential. Her latest Walking in this World is also good.
David Bayles and Tom Orland. Art & Fear. Image Continuum Press, 2000.
An insightful, short book about the stages of the creative process and befriending fear, blocks, and resistance. Used in many art and writing programs.
Some General Texts on Writing and Research
Joseph Williams. Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace. Longman, 2002.
Hands down the best advice on producing clear, graceful prose. The shorter version Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace is also good.
William Strunk and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. Allyn & Bacon, 2000
A classic whose basic principles are still valuable.
Wayne Booth et al. The Craft of Research. Chicago, 2003.
The gold standard of its kind.
Robert Berkman. Find it Fast: How to Uncover Expert Information on Any Subject. Harper, 2000.
A good, easy-to-use guide that considers many kinds of sources.