the return of the literary essay

A fascinating conference at Queen Mary, University of London, brings together writers to talk about the neglected genre, the literary essay in the context of English literary history.

Since Montaigne, the essay has been, alongside fiction, poetry, and drama, one of the major genres of literature, distinguished by its appeal to personal experience rather than institutional approval for authority. It is an intimate forum in which difficult political, scientific, and philosophical issues can be introduced to the general public, and to one another. Yet the essay has been almost completely neglected in literary studies, and in contemporary culture there is little understanding of the genre’s history and importance. Its distinctive forms – experimental, exploratory, polemical, introspective, or conversational – have not been charted; nor have the themes which mark the essay through its history: dissent, whimsy, experience, experiment, conversation, unconscious experience, frailty, amateurism, friendship, and intimacy. In the public arena opportunities to publish essays are now very few: the tradition which passes from Johnson’s Idler, through the Edinburgh Review, the Westminster Gazette, Hound and Horn, the Dial, the Athenaeum, the Criterion, Horizon, and – finally, perhaps – Encounter – is practically at an end. Hazlitt and Lamb would have few opportunities to publish their essays nowadays. This conference seeks to remedy this neglect, bringing together academics, novelists, and essayists, creating an opportunity for ideas to be exchanged, stimulated, and disseminated. Continue reading “the return of the literary essay”

Susan Olding takes the Kingston Do the Math Challenge


Susan Olding participated in the Kingston “Do the Math Challenge”
that was organized by The Food Providers Networking Group and Kingston Community Roundtable on Poverty Reduction.  You can read her journal about how she tried (and failed) “to survive for a week on a food bank diet in support of the Put Food in the Budget Campaign to raise awareness of poverty and hunger in Kingston.”
The organizers describe how “participants accepted the Challenge in solidarity with people receiving social assistance and to draw attention to their inadequate incomes. They wanted to find out for themselves whether anyone anywhere in Ontario earning a total of $592 per month could possibly afford housing, food, transportation, and everything else. Food banks were never meant to be a permanent part of Ontario’s safety net, and those who volunteer and staff food banks agree that in spite of their best efforts the amount of food they make available to clients is inadequate.

You can follow Susan’s reflections in her blog journal account of the experience. Continue reading “Susan Olding takes the Kingston Do the Math Challenge”