bunch of flowers and book arranged on wooden table with vintage typewriter and camera

4 Personal Essays to Make You Feel Something

Creative nonfiction is a genre which deserves your attention. Narrative journalism, essays, books, magazines, and podcasts are all used as creative nonfiction mediums. Creative nonfiction is all about using literary technique to vividly illustrate the stories of real people, places, and events. Creative nonfiction often looks like personal experiences braided with research or theory. Creative nonfiction has even manifested into a hybrid genre called autotheory which combines autobiography with critical theory. Here are four stunning works of creative nonfiction to elevate your human existence: 

  1. The Glass Essay by Anne Carson

“The Glass Essay” by Anne Carson is an absolutely beautiful meditation on love, loss, and literature. Carson, in her poetic style, depicts the devastating aftermath of being left by a man named Law – the person she loves. She also discusses Emily Bronte, landscapes, and her meditative visions – the otherworldly snapshots which she calls “nudes.” Carson writes, “When Law left, I felt so bad I thought I would die. This is not uncommon.” 

  1. The Pain Scale by Eula Biss

“The Pain Scale” discusses the way different scales are used to measure the world around us, but also about the complicated experience of pain. Pain (like happiness) is something that everyone experiences, but it is subjective – meaning these experiences are different for every individual person. Biss masterfully braids her own painful experiences into research and literary reference. 

  1. Why I Write by Joan Didion 

In “Why I Write,” prolific author Joan Didion explains her reasons and methods for writing. In this reflective narrative, any self-proclaimed writer can relate to Didion’s attestment that it is her “inability to deal with ideas” which moves her to write. Writers have the uncanny ability to transmute emotional pain into a creative offering. Pulitzer prize winning poet, Frank Bidart, echoes this idea in his poem, “The Old Man at the Wheel.” He writes, “You let all the parts of that thing you would / cut out of you enter your poem because / enacting there all its parts allowed you / the illusion you could cut it from your soul.”  

  1. The Fourth State of Matter by Jo Ann Beard

“The Fourth State of Matter” is a trip through author Jo Ann Beard’s restless life as a recently separated, old dog owning, space physicist who experiences an extremely shocking and traumatic event: the 1991 shooting at the University of Iowa. A grad student kills five and injures a sixth before comitting suicide. Beard knew the assailant and many of the victims – one of which was a close friend. Beard takes us through a disjointed narrative of her suffering, which begins and ends with her beloved dying dog. She writes, “The collie wakes me about three times a night, summoning me from a great distance as I row my boat through a dim, complicated dream.” Beard’s essay is a trip through the realms of trauma, violence, and grief. 

Nonfiction writing is not just the bland recitation of facts and statistics. This genre is not just composed of books about landscapes or autobiographies. Personal moments and authentic experiences can be as riveting and enthralling as fiction or poetry. If you have never experienced the beauty of a story which is inspiring, while also being factual, consider reading a personal essay. 

Jacqui Donaldson is an American writer and teacher. Her work has been published in The Vehicle, Loud Coffee Press, Across the Margin and others. Connect with Jacqui on Instagram and Twitter @Jacquiverse.

Leave a Reply