Scott russell sanders under the influence essay

Especially those who lack the life experiences that more mature writers can reflect on in their essays?

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SRS : The advice I would offer to young writers is what you might expect: Read widely, not only in the essay, and not only work by your contemporaries. When you find a writer who appeals to you strongly, then read his or her work in depth; study it; imitate it; borrow techniques and insights. Creative writing workshops aid in the development of technique; but good writing depends on more than craft; it depends on life experience, knowledge, sustained reflection, lively imagination, and an inquiring intelligence.

Essayists tend to produce their best work later than poets or short story writers. But that should not discourage young writers from tackling any question, issue, or body of experience that they find compelling. You can always return to it later, when you may well have gained deeper insight. Inscape : At your reading you mentioned that you discovered the essay by accident.

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How did that accidental encounter lead to your success as a writer today? And for that matter, how do you see the personal essay now; what good does the essay offer us? Since I was intrigued by the short stories and novels I read in college, I began by writing fiction, and continued in that genre exclusively for about fifteen years. Meanwhile, I had married and become a father, and I was deeply moved by experiences with my young children.

Instead of turning those experiences into fiction, I wanted to write about them directly, as if I were recounting a story in a letter to a friend.


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One of the first such narratives was about carrying my eleven-month-old son in a backpack up a mountain in Oregon, climbing through a layer of clouds to an exposed peak, and feeling terrified. I wrote an account of the hike in an effort to understand the source of that terror. And in the process I made what I came to recognize as a personal essay. I told a true story, rather than an invented one. From high school English classes, I had come to think of the essay as a dull commentary on some abstract subject, such as patriotism or fate.

When I began exploring the history of this versatile genre, I pulled from my shelf a leather-bound copy of The Complete Essays of Montaigne , which I had received as an academic prize in college. I had scarcely opened the book previously, but now, after stumbling onto the essay, I discovered that this Frenchman had more or less invented the form in the sixteenth century. His work is colorful, cranky, and probing, and it feels contemporary, inviting twenty-first century readers to reflect on their own lives.

Back in , there were no tracks for nonfiction in MFA programs. In fact, there were few MFA programs. Now there are perhaps over a hundred programs and at least as many summer workshops that allow a focus on nonfiction; there are journals and books of criticism devoted to the genre, and there are hundreds of publications, both print and on-line, that publish essays. Why this upsurge in the writing and reading of personal nonfiction? One reason, I suspect, is the hunger for honest, supple, inquiring use of language. Our culture is poisoned by phony speech, especially on television and the Internet.

Commercial, political, and even many religious figures deliver scripted platitudes, ideologies, or outright lies. Personal essays, at their best, offer an antidote to this flaccid or deceitful verbiage. From high school English classes, I had come to think of the essay as a dull commentary on some abstract subject, such as patriotism or fate. When I began exploring the history of this versatile genre, I pulled from my shelf a leather-bound copy of The Complete Essays of Montaigne , which I had received as an academic prize in college.

I had scarcely opened the book previously, but now, after stumbling onto the essay, I discovered that this Frenchman had more or less invented the form in the sixteenth century. His work is colorful, cranky, and probing, and it feels contemporary, inviting twenty-first century readers to reflect on their own lives.

Critical Essay: Under the Influence by Scott Russell Sanders Melissa

Back in , there were no tracks for nonfiction in MFA programs. In fact, there were few MFA programs. Now there are perhaps over a hundred programs and at least as many summer workshops that allow a focus on nonfiction; there are journals and books of criticism devoted to the genre, and there are hundreds of publications, both print and on-line, that publish essays. Why this upsurge in the writing and reading of personal nonfiction? One reason, I suspect, is the hunger for honest, supple, inquiring use of language. Our culture is poisoned by phony speech, especially on television and the Internet.

Commercial, political, and even many religious figures deliver scripted platitudes, ideologies, or outright lies. Personal essays, at their best, offer an antidote to this flaccid or deceitful verbiage. SRS : The best essays convey a sense of authenticity, sincerity, and integrity—qualities rare in contemporary American culture. This audience in turn has encouraged more and more young writers to take up the form, bringing with them a welcome energy and freshness.

Like poetry, the essay requires of its audience a higher degree of literacy and a greater effort of comprehension than the mass media require. So it will always be a minority phenomenon. But so long as there are readers and writers who wish to understand their own existence more deeply, and who enjoy following the play of mind through language, they will be drawn to essays.

The civil rights movement was one of the formative experiences of my early years. It made me aware of the monstrous injustice of slavery, and of the continuing blight of racism. Baldwin helped me to see more clearly the legacy of slavery, and to imagine more vividly what African Americans have suffered and are suffering. I was also fascinated by science, and Eiseley helped me see how to draw on scientific insights while telling personal stories.

Berry helped me see how to write about place, community, and conservation. Although Dillard and I are contemporaries, she discovered her identity as an essayist long before I discovered mine, and she explored the form brilliantly. I felt an immediate kinship with her leaps of imagination, her mystical impulse, and her fascination with the natural world. When you get the inkling to write, how do you choose which genre? Being able to switch modes—from nonfiction to fiction, say—may also keep your work from becoming stale.

For example, I worked for five years on A Private History of Awe, a memoir written while my mother was succumbing to dementia and eventually dying, and while my first born grandchild was entering the world and acquiring the capacities that my mother was losing. It was an arduous project, and when I finished, I restored my energy by turning to fiction, spending most of the next five years writing the novel Divine Animal.

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