Marcia Aldrich, ed.
21st Century Essays by Women
University of Georgia Press 2016
Back in 2013, in The New York Times, essayist Christy Wampole declared that we are in a moment of “the essayification of everything.” She noted how not only the genre, but also the genres inventor, Michel de Montaigne, seemed to be popping up everywhere and she saw the essay “a talisman of our times.” Why? What about the essay struck her as so current, so important? Wampole thought that “the genre and its spirit provide an alternative to the dogmatic thinking that dominates much of social and political life in contemporary America.” The essay is the opposite of the rant, the polemic, the click-bait, the crude headline, and the stupid sound-byte. The essay invites complexity, contradiction, nuance–all of those qualities that mark the real experience of our public and private lives. Essays want to reckon with the rich immensity that is in us and is us.
Now, if you’re like me and feel despair about the degree of dogmatic thinking that now dominates our social and political life in 2017, if you hate the fact that, say, a hastily composed tweet by a recently elected official can clog our public debate and prevent us from addressing issues that demand attention to complexity, contradiction, and nuance, then I encourage you to check out a new collection of essays edited by Marcia Aldrich. Its entitled Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women (University of Georgia Press, 2016) and includes many of the best essayists in America. In essays by Cheryl Strayed, Roxanne Gay, Dana Tommasino, and Aldrich herself, the essay achieves its fullest potential as Wampole described it in 2013. The essay’s spirit, she proclaimed, “resists closed-ended, hierarchical thinking and encourages both writer and reader to postpone their verdict on life. It is an invitation to maintain the elasticity of mind and to get comfortable with the worlds inherent ambivalence. And, most importantly, it is an imaginative rehearsal of what isn’t but could be.”