Hot Off the Presses: This Week's Roundup of a Dozen Great Personal Essays
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.
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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 “A Writer-Owned Experimental Cooperative School,” an interview with, , and Sara Lippmann, the founders of Writing Co-Lab.
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Essays from partner publications…
by Mandy Shunnarah
“My partner understands the dual worlds I occupy, neither fully inhabiting one or the other. A world in which the suggestion of macaroni and cheese grape leaves––a synthesis of my two favorite foods––makes such perfect sense that the only thing more unordinary is us not having thought to try cooking them before.”
Is There Any Bond Stronger Than Twinship?
by Helena de Bres
“One thing Camilla’s offered to my younger self was a reassuring existential guarantee. Even if this new kind of intimacy with my boyfriend didn’t work out, I was likely telling myself, with more prescience than I knew, I’d always have a backup in place: a permanent home by Julia’s side. The idea that twinship provides a uniquely secure solution to loneliness and alienation is probably the biggest attraction of being a twin, for twins and singletons alike.”
My Grandpa Never Spoke of the War. I Needed to See Where He Fought
by Christine Estima
“Looking around Ortona, bullet holes still peppering the bricks, I can feel something in my bones, haunting me. As Gabriele and I move through the village, visiting the Santa Maria di Constantinopoli cathedral where the Canadians held Christmas dinner during the battle in 1943, I have the strange sense that I’ve already been here—as if memories are being transmitted to me.”
My Life as a Cyborg
“Here’s something else that really pisses me off and should piss you off. As I’ve aged, the medical world has lowered its expectations for how I’ll perform as a patient. A young doctor I visited a few years ago said I shouldn’t worry about my chances of getting prostate cancer because it develops slowly and I would almost certainly die of something else first.”
Essays from around the web…
Confessions of a Family Woman
by Chivas Sandage
“I want to know: in his heyday, did Yeats have a day job? I try to imagine Yeats scrubbing the insides of a baking dish instead of writing the lines that float precariously in his head. Or carrying armfuls of dirty laundry down rickety steps to a basement while contemplating rhyme schemes. Or the poem he is jotting down being hijacked by the cry of his small child…It took the lives of every woman I know or have known to teach me to teach myself to write while my daughter sleeps, dishes wait, and in every room a fine film of dust descends.”
by Lizzie Simon
“With rare conditions you can count on science to take a picture but it can not always tell a story. That’s a parent’s job. And when a doc is delivering difficult news, the heart parent must do an impossible feat of synchronous storytelling: She has to ferret out the facts to build an accurate (but always incomplete) story about what’s happening, and she has to emphatically keep up the bubbly story she’s making for the child, who is in the room and has ears.”
Jessie’s Girl: On Guinevere Turner’s “When the World Didn’t End”
by Tamara MC
“Like Turner, I also grew up in an apocalyptic cult, but mine was Sufi and in Texas. A spaceship wasn’t coming to take us to Venus, but the Messenger of God was going to appear to us on the Last Day. Because we were believers, we’d follow him through the gates of heaven while the unbelievers burned in eternal flames. Unlike Turner, the adults in my community didn’t drink wine, smoke weed, or drop acid. Sex was forbidden before marriage. Bodies were hidden under bulky fabrics. Even so, as a fellow 1970s cult kid, I share many similarities with Turner. Certain parallels appear across cults: charismatic leadership, black-and-white thinking, and an “us-versus-them” mentality. And, I would argue, the fetishizing of girls and girlhood.”
Grande Caramel Macchiato
by Mark Bessen
“Emotions get scalding when a chance encounter with a Westboro Baptist Church protester leads to reflection about what it means to be queer around those we who love and those who hate us. ”
by Jody Gelb
“The Jizo ceremony for Children That Had Died was held in a yurt at the Zen Center in Marin County. I wasn’t a Buddhist, but I had read bookshelves full of modern American Buddhist writers. I had been reading about meditation for thirty years, knowing that someday, when I could calm down, I would meditate.”
Co-Creators of the Universe
by Sarah Herrington
“I tried to explain the weight of space, how it could dominate even a family crowded with problems. Like atmosphere—invisible, mysterious, hard to see when you’re in it. How it holds everything we know, and don’t.”
The Sea, The Shell, & The Pearl: Through Embodiments to Poetry
by Jael Montellano
“During class introductions, Ruben asks your small group to share why you’ve come, and when it’s your turn, you say the truest, most concrete thing you know, which is that language is opening itself up in new illiquid ways. You don’t go into details about what this means or why, don’t delay the others or the class. But the missing context is this:You have been the shell that holds the pearl. You have been the current of the sea tossing. You have even been the pearl. But you have never been the ecosystem, never been the three things all at once, equally singular and at home within. But something inside of you has shifted. You are the multitudes now, gathering. You are the infinite depths.”
You Have Such a Pretty Face
by Anastasia Selby
“When I was twelve my mom married an alcoholic and started drinking more herself. My stepfather chastised me at dinner, repeating the phrase quality not quantity like some kind of mantra. During social gatherings they asked their friends to look at my developing body. ‘Doesn’t she have so much potential?’ They’d ask. ‘Doesn’t she have such a pretty face?’…I took the phrase as a compliment for a while, then questioned its meaning. ‘Such a pretty face’ was code for fat. Was my face a consolation prize? I stuffed my rage down with food but refused myself the nourishment and became bulimic, throwing everything up into the toilet until I lost weight. Thinness turned me into an object of desire. Boys to whom I’d previously been invisible suddenly made extended eye contact charged with an electricity I’d rarely felt before.”
📢 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.”
📢 Writing Co-Lab has some new classes on offer…
Writing Co-Lab provides dynamic online classes and workshops in every genre to deepen your craft, sharpen your publishing acumen, and ignite your imagination. Writing Co-Lab is cooperatively owned and run by teaching artists, so up to 90% of your tuition goes directly to the instructor. With free open mic nights, early morning writing clubs, and faculty “ask me anything” sessions, Writing Co-Lab is committed to fostering community inside and outside the classroom. We have upcoming classes taught by acclaimed writers like Edgar Gomez, Bushra Rehman, Omer Friedlander, Natasha Oladokun, Kyle Dillon Hertz, Mila Jaroneic, Amy Shearn, and Alexandra Watson. Check out our full class listings and come write with us!
📢 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!