Holidays Can Be Hard. Here Are 15 Great Essays to Take You Through this Week...
Welcome to Memoir Land—a newsletter edited by, now featuring three verticals:
Memoir Monday, a weekly curation of the best personal essays from around the web brought to you by Narratively, The Rumpus, Granta, Guernica, Oldster Magazine, Literary Hub, Orion Magazine, The Walrus, and Electric Literature. Below is this week’s curation.
- . A new essay is coming Wednesday.
The Lit Lab, featuring interviews and essays on craft and publishing, plus writing prompts and exercises. It is primarily for paid subscribers. Recently I posted “The Prompt-o-Matic #4,” the latest in that writing prompt series.
Memoir Monday is a reader-supported publication that pays contributors for original essays and interviews. To support this work, become a paid subscriber.
Essays from partner publications…
by James McNaughton
“After my younger brother died, I began to get calls from people who wanted to buy my parents’ house. As I write this, Conor has been dead for over three years. Nobody outside of family much asks about him anymore. My mother speaks to Conor on her hikes. My father talks to him early, when he putters in the garden, and last thing before bed, lauds and complines, morning and evening prayers. I lack that open line. Sometimes I nod internally to Conor’s soprano laugh; other times, in the shower, an unbidden fuuuuck escapes my front teeth. On a jog between magnolia trees leafless and blooming, I say suddenly to my wife: I mourn his lost possibility. Or I say: The present is against grief. It sides cruelly with what is.”
by Jennifer Brandel
“The interstitium’s existence — this golden metaphor rooted in our own biology — has finally given me words for the role I play, and what I’ve been noticing others doing everywhere, but couldn’t articulate. And if anthropomorphizing a body part is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
by Nuar Alsadir
“After my first day of clown school I tried to drop out. The instructor was provoking us in a way that made me uncomfortable – to the nervous smiley woman, ‘Don’t lead with your teeth;’ to the young hipster, ‘Go back to the meth clinic,’ and to me, ‘I don’t want to hear your witty repartee about Oscar Wilde.”
Finding My Voice as My Mother Lost Hers
by Minelle Mahtani
“When I got back into the radio studio, I cleared my throat nervously and tried to ask my guests questions that deserved to be answered. And, through the pain of being in that studio, so far away from my mother, my mother who could no longer speak, I recognized how speaking would never be enough.”
How to Craft an Excerpt from Your Memoir
“I attempted to write an essay from my in-progress memoir a few years ago but felt like the first draft didn’t quite work. The way I’d constructed it left too many questions, which I wasn’t sure how to answer without the piece ballooning into something much longer. I put it in a drawer for another day. But faced with the question head-on now, I wanted to know, too. So, I decided to pick the brains of four nonfiction writers who have written excerpts I love — and successfully placed them in The New York Times, The New Yorker and Narratively — to see how exactly they did it.”
On Learning to Ride a Motorcycle After Fifty
by Kim McLarin
“My Honda Nighthawk 250s is a good thirty years old and bears the scars of many a drop. Besides injury, dropping the bike is my biggest worry, one which intensifies when I realize I’m the only woman in the class. Dropping the bike gets you serious demerits. I am not going to be the Girl Who Dropped the Bike.”
“Something repressed inside slowly emerges from pivoting on command. Or so I learned when following those orders as if by reflex. “With basic training the person you were disappears,” my big brother told me following his discharge after front-line service in Korea. “And the person you really are turns up.” He was right.
“What other memories are hiding in me and what might awaken them? I don’t want to remember the moment of impact, or smashing against the wall, or falling to the ground. I don’t even want to fill in the gaps of my hospital memories, the first few days when I was under a fog of morphine and pain and sleepless nights. But someday, will they suddenly snap into my body without warning?”
Essays from around the web…
A Friend Died, Her Novel Unfinished. Could I Realize Her Vision?
“When Rebecca received her initial diagnosis, in 2018, she was given only six months to live. Now, after four years of outliving her prognosis, she’d received terrible news about her liver, and it was clear she didn’t have much longer. She handed me a little notebook and asked me to take notes: The name of a Kingston hospice. What she wanted the end of her novel to feel like. I copied down her words: Give her this third section, some bliss and triumph.”
There are Giants in the Sky
by Natalie Chih-lu Hung
“Now a psychologist, I devote my life to healing trauma in myself and others, and channel my hot rage into avenging the false narratives that made my father believe he was a broken man when the more complete truth is that the world failed to protect his luminous, sensitive soul. The work of healing is hard, like removing a tangled vine choking a tree—you can scarcely tell where one starts and the other begins, but you reach and hope and pull until you find release, only to find another cluster of leaves peeking out from the clearing.”
Penang’s Bridges Are Passages to Another World
by Wan Phing Lim
“The bridge is a boon and a bane. At the age of 12, I realized that my father lived with another woman on the mainland. They had two children, school-age, a little younger than myself and my younger sister. I marveled at the bridge, an architectural wonder. I feared it too, for it connected me to a world I did not want to know about.”
On Going Home
by Michelle Bracken
“There were no other children on that street, and if there were, they never came out to play. There were no trees, either, and I found the lack of people unsettling. It was quiet in the desert. No police sirens, no music echoing in the neighborhood, just the sound of our feet crunching against the sand. Sweat pooled at the backs of our t-shirts and tank tops, and no matter how many times I tried, I could never stop sweating. Even in the dead of a desert winter, when the wind chapped my lips and fingers, a cold sweat remained.”
Williamstown, Summer 2003
by Michael Todd Cohen
“We had famous on credit: Chris’s dad was on the TV show Chips, Katherine’s dad was on Law & Order, my dad was dead, six years, famously dead—rapt audience every time I told it.”
How I Learned to Read the Room
“When I first signed up to be a literacy volunteer, I thought it would make me feel happier and more fulfilled. I thought this because I had written as much in many magazine articles. In these “how to be happy” stories, I proclaimed the psychological benefits of donating one’s time, citing research that showed that people who volunteered enjoyed better health, stronger relationships, and higher overall well-being than those who did not.”
Jerusalem’s Three Sabbaths
“The Hebrew name of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, has a plural suffix. I see the suffix as an embrace of the frequent and tense pluralism inherent in a city that is home to the three Abrahamic religions. These three ancient religions strikingly reside next to each other in Jerusalem’s Old City—0.35 square miles of the most contested real estate on earth. On one of my trips to Jerusalem, my mother, the only Jew in the Catholic school where she taught, asked me to buy a crucifix for a friend who was a nun. As I held the crucifix in my hand, the shop owner told me it was made of the very wood of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. I believed him because such things can happen in Jerusalem..”
📢 Submissions for ’s second annual Memoir Prize are open now.
“Through Thursday, November 30, 2023, Narratively is accepting entries for our 2023 Memoir Prize. We’re on the hunt for revealing and emotional first-person nonfiction narratives from unique and overlooked points of view. The winning submission will receive a $3,000 prize and publication on Narratively.”
📢 Attention Publications and writers interested in having published essays considered for inclusion in our weekly curation:
By Thursday of each week, please send to email@example.com:
The title of the essay and a link to it.
The name of the author, and the author’s Twitter handle.
A paragraph or a few lines from the piece that will most entice readers.
Because of data limits for many email platforms, going forward we will only include artwork from our partner publications. No need to send art.
*Please be advised, however, that we cannot accept all submissions, nor respond to the overwhelming number of emails received. Also, please note that we don’t accept author submissions from our partner publications.
You can also support Memoir Monday—and indie bookstores!—by browsing this Bookshop.org list of every book that’s been featured at the Memoir Monday reading series. It’s a great place to find some new titles to add to your TBR list!