Garnette Cadogan

Stories of the Self: The Art of the Personal Essay

A personal essay is a story in pursuit of the self—chasing, lassoing, interrogating, arguing with, and sometimes even dodging the self. Though diverse in form and varied in the subjects it covers, the personal essay has its sights firmly set on understanding or explaining the self: Who are we, really, and why do we behave the way we do?

We will tackle that question through readings of exemplary personal essays, exploring how masterful essayists handle the ambiguities, frustrations, promise, and provocations of the self. Our conversation partners will include Hilton Als, James Baldwin, Alexander Chee, Debra Dickerson, Edwidge Danticat, Gerald Early, Jamaica Kincaid, Luc Sante, Zadie Smith, and Virginia Woolf, with guest appearances by poets, novelists, short story writers, playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, and visual artists. More than anything else, we will focus on seeing, much more so than being seen, and ask what it means to explore the human self through—and shape human experience within—the capacious literary form that is the personal essay.


Garnette Cadogan is an essayist whose work focuses on the promise and perils of urban life. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Urban Studies and Planing at MIT, and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University. He writes about culture and the arts for various publications and, in Fall 2017, was included in a list of 29 writers from around the world who “represent the future of new writing.” The editor-at-large of Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas, he is at work on a book on walking

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