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Essaysisms Reading Group: The Personal Essay 

Monday 8 March 2021, 5.00PM

Writing in 2017 in the New Yorker, Jia Tolentino declared that “the personal essay-boom is over” in American literary culture. While Tolentino was invoking a particular form of sensationalist essay writing “mostly written by women” that proliferated online and all but dissipated after the 2016 US Presidential election, the moniker of “the personal essay” has outlived the perceived shift to focusing on systemic rather than personal trauma. Reading a number of very contemporary essayists - the American writer Leslie Jamison, the Korean American poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong, and the Zambian writer and academic Namwali Serpell - this session of Essayisms will consider why the personal essay and its attendant mode of confessionalism has become synonymous with “women’s writing”? How is the personal essay tied to an intersectional interrogation of what Park Hong refers to as “minor feelings”: the “racialised range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic”? And, as Tolentino claimed, is the “personal … no longer political in quite the same way”?

Our selection of “personal essays” this week is necessarily curbed by our one-hour format: please feel free to bring other essayists to bear into our discussion!

The following readings are available online and via our Google Drive:

This reading group is part of the CModS research strand ’The Contemporary Essay

Please register via this link

All are welcome! Please contact Ella Barker ( for access to readings or any questions about getting involved.

Location: Zoom