Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, picks the 10 best essays of the postwar period. Links to the essays are provided when available. So to make my list of the top ten essays since less impossible, I decided to exclude all the great examples of New Journalism--Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Michael Herr, and many others can be reserved for another list. I also decided to include only American writers, so such outstanding English-language essayists as Chris Arthur and Tim Robinson are missing, though they have appeared in The Best American Essays series.
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And I selected essays , not essayists. A list of the top ten essayists since would feature some different writers. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process--reflecting, trying-out, essaying. Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American.
However you view the racial politics, the prose is undeniably hypnotic, beautifully modulated and yet full of urgency. An essay that packed an enormous wallop at the time may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics. Odd, how terms can bounce back into life with an entirely different set of connotations.
What might Mailer call the new hipsters? Read the essay here. I was familiar with it as an undergraduate, hearing it used often by a set of friends, department store window decorators in Manhattan. But after Sontag unpacked the concept, with the help of Oscar Wilde, I began to see the cultural world in a different light. This sample essay immerses us in detail about medieval literature throughout, eventually citing several Irish medieval manuscripts. This student takes an interesting theme-based approach and projects forward toward graduate school with confidence.
Written during a height of US involvement in Iraq, this essay manages the intriguing challenge of how a member of the military can make an effective case for on-line graduate study. The obvious need here, especially for an Air Force pilot of seven years, is to keep the focus on academic interests rather than, say, battle successes and the number of missions flown.
Sex, drugs and superheroes: Our 10 best personal essays
An additional challenge is to use military experience and vocabulary in a way that is not obscure nor off-putting to academic selection committee members. To address these challenges, this writer intertwines his literacy in matters both military and academic, keeping focus on applications of Geographic Information Systems GIS , his chosen field of graduate study. This example shows that even for an engineer with years of experience in the field, the fundamentals of personal essay writing remain the same.
This statement opens with the engineer describing a formative experience—visiting a meat packaging plant as a teenager—that influenced the writer to work in the health and safety field. Now, as the writer prepares to advance his education while remaining a full-time safety engineer, he proves that he is capable by detailing examples that show his record of personal and professional success. Especially noteworthy is his partnering with a government agency to help protect workers from dust exposures, and he ties his extensive work experience directly to his goal of becoming a Certified Industrial Hygienist.
Use summary to explain and tell readers background information. As well, use personal reflection to share your impressions and emotional truth How does it feel to you? Vivid Descriptions To reconstruct setting and events and impressions of people, use sensor details, writing descriptions of what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch.
Revision The first draft is never your best work. Tips for Writing about Popular Culture Popular culture is never static. It is always evolving. New things are continuously being introduced, such as film, music, art, and technologies. And so, to write about popular culture, you must stay informed. Here are a few suggestions: 1.
Examples: Visit the art gallery, go to a concert, buy tickets to watch a movie. Stay informed.
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Keep a writing journal. Make regular entries about pop culture in a writing journal.
Become and expert. Enroll in a photography, art, poetry, film study, music course. Consider writing a speculative narrative. For instance, you might see a piece of art in a gallery, and then write a description using sensory details, and then rely on your imagination to determine the meaning of the art.
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Remain aware of the fads and trends. Regularly, Ask yourself: What are the fads? How does film, fashion, music, art influence you?
How have books influenced your life? How has the smartphone, tablet, digital music player, or digital camera altered your lifestyle? Make popular culture part of your life. Immerse yourself in film, art, literature, photography, music, and you will see view the world from a different perspective, a viewpoint that will enable you to write about popular culture. A profile is not a biography or autobiography.
The writer can also profile someone ordinary, such as a teacher, or priest, or police officer, or someone extraordinary, like Margaret Atwood, David Hockney, or Steve Jobs. A good profile includes telling details, dialogue, and storytelling. The writer will also use scene, summary, and personal reflection. A good profile is also interesting, profiles someone new, encourages the reader to think more about the person. A good profile informs, educates, and entertains readers.
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Some profiles have a serious tone, and other have a humorous tone. A profile is not a book-length biography, which is an in-depth description of the life and times of another person.
The profile is usually only a few pages and published in magazines or newspapers as an essay. As well, the writer can profile someone ordinary or extraordinary. Sometimes the profile is about the good guy. The writer profiles a person who wants to achieve or accomplish something worthy. Perhaps the amateur athlete dreams about winning a gold medal at the Olympics, or the starving artist desires to achieve fame and fortune, or the writer aspires to write the next bestseller.
In writing about the outer world, the writer identifies some of the important setbacks and obstacles, as well as the significant accomplishments and achievements. To write a profile about a stranger, the writer must have access to the person. Having access allows the writer to interview and to observe the person at work and at play.
The writer will also interview family, friends, and work associates. He includes humour, telling details, dialogue, scene and summary, and personal reflection to construct the portrait of his uncle. Unfortunately, people perform many roles, such as husband, breadwinner, parent, and so the writer will not be able to write a complete profile.
Before writing the profile, you must gather material about the person. Begin by searching the Internet to find out what else has been written about the person. Start by completing a Google search. By reading what other writers have written, you can obtain a general sense of the person, such as their level of education, work accomplishments, interests, tastes, reason for being in the news.
Interview the person you are profiling and other people who know the person, such as friends and family. As well, interview subject matter experts. For instance, to get related information about being a stunt pilot, writer Annie Dillard collected quotes from a pilot who as a crop duster. In addition, you should try to observe the person at work or in their natural habitat.
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