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Has the essay become ubiquitous?

Nonfiction prose has enjoyed a series of booms since the memoir craze of the late 1980s. But now essays, and essayists – those sallying minds on the margins of the genre – have begun to find themselves in a new and near constant limelight. One writer at the fulcrum of the memoir’s heyday remains an ardent champion of the essay. Although we can’t credit him with the form’s invention, we can certainly thank him for its exposure, past and present. (Or, blame him, depending on your tastes.)

Phillip Lopate was born in Brooklyn in 1943. He began his literary career as a writer of fictions and poetry, but is best known for his deeply intimate nonfiction work. His prolific publication credits include Being with Children (Doubleday, 1975), a memoiristic account of the twelve years he spent teaching poetry in public schools, and his many personal essays, collected in Bachelorhood: Tales of the Metropolis (Little, Brown, 1981), Against Joie de Vivre (Simon & Schuster, 1989), and Portrait of My Body (Anchor, 1996) among others. He recently published To Show and To Tell: Notes on the Craft of Literary Nonfiction (Free Press, 2013), and Notes on Sontag (Princeton University Press, 2009) is an extended meditation on the late critic and cultural theorist.

Lopate also edited The Art of the Personal Essay (Doubleday, 1994), the widely-taught landmark anthology contextualizing the personal essay as a contemporarily relevant style, couched in a long-standing global tradition. The Art of The Personal Essay was an instant hit with writers and readers of nonfiction everywhere, and it remains the single bestselling anthology of essays these past thirty years have seen.

Given all this, it’s no surprise that Lopate is widely considered one of the most influential essayists living today. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, he has taught in almost half a dozen MFA programs around the country, and currently holds the Adams Chair at Hofstra University, where he is a professor of English.

Phillip Lopate is visiting the University of Iowa this week as an Ida Beam Distinguished Visiting Professor and will be reading from his new critically acclaimed essay collection, Portrait Inside My Head (Free Press, 2013), on Thursday, September 12, 2013, at 7:00pm in 101 Biology Building East.

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