"In the essay, Atwan has found a “durable” and capacious art, practice, map for a key trajectory of American literature, and corrective to what he sees as the strictures of writing and thinking in school."

"...[W]e increasingly appreciate him as a thinker who has worked hard to develop a high tolerance for his own uncertainty, especially about essays; at the same time, he holds himself accountable for trying to articulate his own ideas about essays as they deepen, become obsolete, or get replaced by better ones. At key moments—the most fruitful in these forewords—he highlights challenges we face as we try to read in ways that change us, write essays that cannot be graded by a machine, have ideas of our own, tell truths in nonfiction, and name touchstone qualities of essays so that we can learn from one another about them."

"For Atwan, cultivating better readers is a challenging task, but one that literary works—and essays as much as any—need in order to thrive, regardless of whether readers encounter those works in print or online. Some of the responsibility for teaching readers resides with authors and editors."

"If there can be people who are “true essayists,” there might be something called, “true essays,” although the kind of truth at stake here has nothing to do with verifiable events, or fact-checked episodes that essayists relate. This truth is about whether there is a genre that we can call “essay” and be relatively confident that we can communicate our understanding to others. Atwan returns repeatedly in this series to four qualities we can find in all essays that have lasted beyond their moment of composition: 1) they explore original ideas about specific topics; 2) they include the vivid presence of the writer who readers can discern and track; and 3) they incorporate moments of both self-awareness and skepticism primarily through reflection; and 4) they resist what Atwan calls “standardization” in content or form."


"The impulses of logos and eros need not be at odds with one another in essays, and, in fact, if an essayist hopes to make something lasting in her or his work, they cannot be."

This is a true Christmas feast in honor of perhaps the most important living advocate of the essay. Read the rest here!

AuthorJohn Proctor