The lyric essay: a contemporary mode of reading and writing

Askew, Michael (2021) The lyric essay: a contemporary mode of reading and writing. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis offers a sustained history and theory of the ‘lyric essay’ as a mode of reading and writing. Coined in the 1990s to describe a then-emergent hybrid of the lyric poem and literary essay, the term ‘lyric essay’ has seen increasingly widespread use in both the study and practice of contemporary nonfiction across the last two decades, reaching a broad audience thanks to the popularity of books such as Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, and David Shields’s Reality Hunger. Yet there has been no extended scholarly consideration of the term, or its usefulness as a way of thinking about the strand of modern writing it attempts to define. Drawing together existing scholarship in lyric and essay studies, research into the term’s origins, and close readings of key lyric essayists, this thesis asks why the lyric essay has emerged and what it has to offer the modern reader. I reveal the importance of both anthologisation and creative writing instruction in the term’s ascendancy, and comparatively assess the contributions of John D’Agata, Judith Kitchen, and David Shields in formulating and popularising it. I then turn to the form’s most important practitioners, close reading work by Annie Dillard, Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, and Claudia Rankine, simultaneously using the term to produce new insights into their texts while using their texts to sharpen my understanding of the term. I conclude by turning back to Montaigne and the essay’s origins, comparing all four essayists and elucidating how they challenge the traditional essay’s grounding in the self through their adoption of a ‘lyric I’ borrowed from poetry. Though focused on one particular term, my project uncovers important insights about the nature of genre, the differences between poetry and prose, and the landscape of contemporary literature.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Literature and Creative Writing (former - to 2011)
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2022 08:55
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2022 08:55


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