The Best Craft Books For Essayists And Memoirists

The Books I Picked & Why

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

By Vivian Gornick

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

Why this book?

Gornick’s The Situation and the Story is a powerful lesson in what makes a true story more than just anecdote and how the best memoirists deepen their work to achieve universal appeal. Gornick is a master of the memoir form herself, as well as a respected teacher, and her valuable insights into the constructed “I’ on the page are strengthened by the numerous authors and books she examines in order to make her lucid points. A meticulously assembled craft handbook for anyone wanting to examine the engine of memoir to see how the various moving parts come together to create beauty and power.


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Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

By Sue William Silverman

Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

Why this book?

A friendly and accessible guide for anyone wanting to tell their own life story, Fearless Confessions looks at several craft issues in writing – plot, style, voice, point-of-view, metaphor, language – as well as marketing, and ethics. Silverman’s exceptional book offers also provides insight from her own writing journey, useful writing exercises, a helpful discussion of nonfiction sub-genres, and a valuable “Reading List of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction.” A welcoming and supportive text packed with nuggets of pure wisdom.


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A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

By David Mura

A Stranger's Journey: Race, Identity, and Narrative Craft in Writing

Why this book?

Master teacher David Mura’s A Stranger's Journey addresses long-overlooked issues of race and identity in publishing and in the standard teaching of creative writing and he brilliantly advocates for a more inclusive and expansive definition of writing craft. Though this book is partly aimed at educators, he offers incredibly useful craft lessons as well, primarily through his deft analysis of work done by writers ranging from James Baldwin to Mary Karr to ZZ Packer. In a world that no longer accepts the notion that our greatest authors have to be “dead white men,” Mura offers a necessary window into the intersection of race, literature, and culture.


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You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction

By Lee Gutkind

You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction

Why this book?

Gutkind founded the journal Creative Nonfiction and has been a tireless advocate of the CNF genre for decades, as a writer, teacher, public speaker, and publisher. His nuts and bolts guidebook, You Can't Make This Stuff Up, offers a wide-ranging examination of the craft of writing true stories – dialogue, description, beginnings, endings, intimate detail, reflection, point-of-view, framing – as well as clear and helpful chapters about forming a writing habit and learning to live one’s life as a writer. Gutkind has generously packed decades of wisdom and knowledge into perhaps the most comprehensive nonfiction guide available.


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The Art of Memoir

By Mary Karr

The Art of Memoir

Why this book?

Mary Karr brings the lively irreverent voice found in her classic memoir The Liar’s Club to this inspiring guide to the memoir craft. Offering excerpts from her favorite memoirs, stories other successful writers have shared with her over the years, and honest examples from her own struggles on and off the page, Karr addresses not just the difficulties of forming sentences and writing powerful scenes but also the more complex emotional challenges of writing about one’s own pain and heartbreak. Simultaneously practical and inspirational, The Art of Memoir contains Karr’s energy and amazing wit on every page.


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