Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Art of the Personal Essay

The Art of the Personal Essay - An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present - selected and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate

This book is a masterpiece in itself - it is a huge thick book spanning 777 pages - the introduction alone is comprehensive and breaks down the elements of a personal essay - The Conversational Element; Honesty, Confession and Privacy; The Contractions and Expansions of the Self; The Role of Contrariety; The Problem of Egotism; Cheek and Irony; The Idler Figure; The Past, the Local, and the Melancholy; Questions of Form and Style; Quotation and the Uses of Learning; The Personal Essay as Mode of Thinking and Being.

I discovered that for more than 400 years the personal essay has been one of the richest and most vibrant of all literary forms and this anthology celebrates this lively genre. The Art of the Personal Essay includes 75 essays, beginning with influential forerunners from ancient Rome (Seneca, Plutarch) and the Far East to the mastering of the form by its sixteenth-century founder, Michel de Montaigne; through the golden age of the English essay (from Addison & Steele and Samuel Johnson through Orwell and Woolf) to its variegated outcroppings in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa, and its efforescence in the US.

Since reading this excellent resource, I have written a few personal essays - the freedom of the genre makes this my favourite way of expressing myself as well as writing poetry.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

White-Washing of Black Books

In PRIDE Magazine, September 2009, I was outraged when I read an article, 'Judging a Book by its Cover' by Cynthia Lawrence. The novel LIAR, by Australian novelist Justine Larbalestier, is about a young African-American girl. The author was astonished to see a white face on the book cover, instead of the protagonist Micah, who has short, "nappy" hair.

This saga became the subject of a blazing race row with Bloomsbury Children's Books, the book's US publishers. After alot of fuss made from critics, bloggers and internet commentators, who blasted the evident "white-washing", Bloomsbury was forced to change the cover. However, the revised cover depicts a mixed-race girl with curly hair as opposed to the character of the black girl with nappy hair.

It seems that publishers still deem it as not financially viable to market book covers using black people, and many black books do not receive the same vigorous marketing. Although I was aware of the widely held assumption that white readers won't buy the book with a black face on the cover, I really thought the US of all places wasn't in this same ignorant league.

PRIDE magazine asks 'Have you ever come across a book cover that appeared to be "white-washed"? If so, they would like to hear from you. Email your comments to: