October 18, 2013

The 5 Best Essays for Beginners

by Bailey Wallace

David Foster Wallace
Src: www.telegraph.co.uk

A few years ago, when I was introduced to creative nonfiction, I had a really hard time coming up with examples of exactly what creative nonfiction is. I named the same three people over and over again, naively thinking that those were the only three. After many years (and many trips to the library), I have discovered a wonderful crop of authors and essays to boot! Here are some gems that I have found.

1. "Stiff as a Board, Light as a Feather" by David Rackoff

Back in the spring of 2012, radio program This American Life put on a live show that was broadcast into movie theatres across the country. It featured performances and readings that, while possible on the radio, were amplified when seen. One in particular was by David Rackoff, a long time contributor to This American Life. He was dying of cancer, and this performance would be his last public one. It’s incredibly moving and lovely and I nearly cry every time I watch it.

2. "Goodbye To All That" by Joan Didion
Of course, Ms. Didion had to be featured in this list. It’s hard not to think of her when creative nonfiction comes into play. This essay has brought tears to more than one, and has inspired countless others to write about their own experiences saying "goodbye" to something they thought was important to them. Although it’s taught a lot in workshops and other literature classes, it never hurts to re-read a masterpiece.

3. "How to Tell a True War Story" by Tim O’Brien

Featured in The Things They Carried, O’Brien takes his reader on an emotional ride in his essay about how to tell a true war story. It’s striking, because it is so honest. No sugar coating anything in this essay. It’s refreshing. It forces one to think along the way and see if what O’Brien is saying is really how he says they happened, or if he’s just telling a story.

4. "Documents" by Charles D’Ambrosio

One of the first pieces I truly fell in love with. D’Ambrosio talks about family issues and the importance of letters. His pocket-sized book, Orphans, is tricky to find, but totally worth it. Fun Fact: He is coming to Columbia College on November 6!

5. "Ticket to the Fair" by David Foster Wallace
A list like this cannot not include have David Foster Wallace. He is the king of the essay. He’s witty and funny and truly amazing. This essay, published in 1994, is a classic. Keep in mind, this is David Foster Wallace and this is not a 10-page essay. It’s a DFW essay, meaning that it is lengthy, but it is lengthy for a reason.

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