The American Essays is a monumental anthology of essays from American authors such as David Foster Wallace, Benjamin Franklin, Zadie Smith, and Cotton Mather. Selected by Phillip Lopate, it is a book for the ages. It is a must-have for the American essay lover. Here are just a few of the essays that are included:
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John D’Agata included “Sinners in the Hands of the Angry God” in his 2016 anthology, which was part of a trilogy examining the development of the essay and its boundaries. In a nutshell, the Making of the American Essay set out to chart the development of the form, pushing its boundaries as it did. However, Lopate says editing an essay anthology is “a chump’s game.”
While writing an essay is an art form, the act of commissioning an essay is a rare privilege. You must have an understanding of the person commissioning the essay and be able to talk without interruption for x number of words. But, if you’re in a conversation at a dinner party, you’ll be interrupted by someone who has an idea similar to your own. In other words, reading an essay is a kind of aspirational pleasure.
However, a book like “The Glorious American Essay” has many glories. But, it gets off to a starchy start. Lopate defines the essay as a “record of thought” and an “intellectual bellwether of modern society. The book includes essays from colonial times to the present. It’s organized chronologically. The dates, however, clump together after the First World War.
Lopate’s anthology is a veritable treasure trove of essays from American writers. It covers themes as diverse as religion and aesthetics to landscape and sexuality. The anthology is filled with diverse voices that have contributed to the development of our national identity. It’s a good guide to the best of the country’s most daring prose.
Lopate included writers such as Ralph Ellison, Vivian Gornick, and David Foster Wallace in his essay collection. The essays are arranged chronologically by year, giving the book a survey-like feeling. There are some essays that jump around, and the reader might jump between them. This is a book that can be read in one sitting.
The collection is expected to grow into a second volume, which would include essays from the 1930s to the present. The American essay is an important literary tool and has endured many changes in communication medium. The essays featured in this collection cover a broad range of topics and show the evolution of the essay as a literary form.