This past semester I finished my MFA thesis, and thus, my MFA! Even though I have been writing poetry for years, I entered my program as a creative nonfiction candidate, and my thesis is a collection of intertwined essays about growing up in Pennsylvania.
Along my journey of writing, I have read many, many essay collections. Last year, I read an article titled "9 Women Writers Who Are Breaking New Nonfiction Territory" on Bustle. I have read many of the authors on this list, including favorites Roxane Gay, Maggie Nelson, and Angela Morales. However, the article got me thinking about women authors in the world of creative nonfiction, and this year, I made it an effort to find and read more collections of essays by women. Here are my top five.
Circadian by Chelsey Clammer (Red Hen Press)
In Chelsey Clammer’s newest collection of essays, Circadian, which also won Red Hen Press’s Nonfiction Award, she examines the way we shape our identities and thus our lives. Clammer strays from linear storytelling, and instead, explores the boundaries of the lyric essay. Whether she is explaining her alcoholic father’s actions through mathematics or offering a quiet contemplation of what to do with his ashes, she seeks to find the human emotions in all situations. Her essay, “Then She Flew Away,” about the suicide of a young woman, is one of the most heartbreaking pieces I have ever read.
It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability by Kelly Davio (Squares & Rebels)
In her first book of essays, loosely collected into a memoir, Kelly Davio explores what it is like to live with a chronic illness in today’s world. Sometimes, her stories are funny. At other times, her tales are angry (or at least I felt angry!). Always, however, her precise insight and wit are displayed as she tackles health care systems, social events, and family relationships.
Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker by Lori Jakiela (Bottom Dog Press)
I’ve read (and of course, loved) previous work by Lori Jakiela, including her memoirs and her poetry, so of course, I purchased and read Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker, a collection of personal essays. These essays, which read as a series of snapshots from Jakiela’s life, explore everything from teenagers’ jobs to relationships with parents to glimpses of a writer’s life in today’s world. Approaching her world with humor, Jakiela loves the working-class world around her – and it shows.
300 Arguments: Essays by Sarah Manguso (Graywolf Press)
Sarah Manguso’s slim collection of essays reads like a contemporary Biblical text of the Book of Proverbs, with snippets and slices of advice and insight about life. This book is not one that you can sit down and read in one setting. Instead, it is a work where readers will want to read a little bit at a time, taking in both the wisdom and language of Manguso’s words.
The Long Weeping: Portrait Essays by Jessie van Eerden (Orison Books)
It’s no secret that the current political climate has called attention to Appalachia, but often this region, at least in the eyes of modern media, is met with scorn, with little to no regard to the people who live there. Jessie van Eerden's book, The Long Weeping, is a beautiful book of essays, exploring subjects of the Appalachian world often misunderstood, or even ridiculed, by many writers and artists. She looks at poverty and hardship, never backing down from the grim, but often hard beauty, of deep rural life, all the while cloaking her work in the gritty spirituality that coats her memories and her world. As writer Ann Pancake explains, “Van Eerden is brave enough to say the hard things. She’s strong enough to love the hard places.” A stunning collection!
I am a poet and professor from rural Pennsylvania. This page is dedicated to my publishing news and events; for book reviews published online go to the Reviews tab above. For my own personal reviews, explore the Book Picks tab.