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To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
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To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  252 ratings  ·  38 reviews
A long-awaited new book on personal writing from Phillip Lopate—celebrated essayist, the director of Columbia University’s nonfiction program, and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay.In his acclaimed classic anthology The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate gave readers a premier collection of the finest essays in the genre. Now, in To Show and to Tell, he provid ...more
ebook, 240 pages
Published February 12th 2013 by Free Press
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Sherilyn Lee
I graduated with an MFA in creative nonfiction writing in 2006, then wrote poetry for several years, then joined a nonfiction writing group this year and found myself writing the longest personal narrative I had ever written. My writing group also reads and we dove into this book last month.

Lopate is a concise and precise writer, while still giving the book a personal feel as if you were taking a workshop from him. This book is serious but not stern. He weighs in on the typical nonfiction argum
Carol Apple
Insightful book on the controversies, quandaries, and possible pitfalls of writing literary non-fiction by a well-known practitioner and professor of the craft. I especially liked Lopate's practical yet sensitive tone and his resistance to both popular and academic fads and fashions. The book ends with a long and juicy reading list. I thought I was fairly well read, but now I have about 100 additional books to add to my reading list.
This was a very informative read on writing mostly essays and non-fiction. He explains how non-fiction can have prose as great as fiction. He tells on what we can’t remember to write of in our truths and reality to take from some imagination, and how we do create a small amount of fiction in non-fiction in doing this.There is priceless advice in here on writing and he writes about great essayists.
He gives examples from Emerson and James Baldwin, and more, writes of their writing style and lives.
Kent Winward
For a book that was cobbled together out of disparate essays, Lopate's musings on essays in particular and "creative" non-fiction in general creates exactly what is promised by the title: a treatise on non-fiction writing that both shows and tells.

I suppose it will remain to be seen, but Lopate's book was an epiphany for me. I realized that I've been fighting my own proclivities in writing by trying to write fiction. The irony is that almost everything I write is non-fiction or poetry, rarely d
It took me a long time to read these essays, not because they were difficult, but I think because they made me feel guilty. They are so well written and engaging and even encouraging to the writer that I felt bad ignoring his comments and advice by not writing and so stayed away. I eventually got over that. Lopate offers a strong defense of the literary nature and the value of essay writing and the memoir. Most of the book deals with writing personal narrative, and includes essays on turning you ...more
What to say about this kind of book? It is the sort of book that, although there are sections that vacillate, merely confuse, or infuriate, is something that an aspiring nonfiction writer should read? Philip Lopate's strength really is the art of the personal essay. Not because of the quality of the personal essays that he himself writes, but because of his synthesis of the elements that lift a personal essay above the ordinary. One of which is the ability to make oneself a character in a person ...more
Stephen Buggy
An excellent exploration of the essay form. Lopate is deeply practical. He is hostile to any attempt to make the essay a form of therapy for the writer. He rightly points out that many of the things that make for a good essay (a somewhat dislikable or unusual voice, constant judgement on your past self) make for uncomfortable therapy. (Not that such writing can't be therapy or a tool of social justice but the writer's duty is in the first instance to the reader.) Throughout there is a balance be ...more
If Phillip Lopate had decided to not use his graduate students as his crutch for every example of what NOT to do I might be more willing to finish this book. Also, if he actually focused on how he researches, writes and edits, versus more of the what not to do's and jokes at others expenses I might be able to learn from his recognized talent. Until then I'll read his essays that aren't on writing, and listen to his brother, Leonard.
Linda Tapp
I chose two books on literary/creative non-fiction to read during a recent vacation. When I chose the two - this one and one by Lee Gutkind titled "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" - I did not realize they would be so different. While I am glad I read about this topic from two different authors, I found Mr. Gutkind's book easier to read and more valuable.

This book contains valuable information for those seriously considering writing literary non-fiction but I feel it is more for individuals who ha
Vikk Simmons
I have long admired Philip Lopate and consider his introduction to his now famous collection The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present to be among my most favorite pieces of writing, so you can imagine my delight in learning that he had a new book on writing published earlier this year (2013) focused on the craft of literary fiction.

To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction should be read by anyone who intends to even dabble in creative nonfic
Lopate's new book is an excellent resource for not just writers of essays; he covers many issues that all writers face, especially in the chapter titled "On the Ethics of Writing about Others." Readers will find themselves enjoying reading more after examining some of the topics discussed in this book. I enjoyed his attempts to explain how to end an essay in the chapter titled "How do you end an essay?" Ending an essay is an intuitive skill that is difficult to teach or explain, but at the same ...more
my former professor - the world authority on the personal essay - phillip lopate collects a number of his recent works about writing and writers who write personal essays, defending the genre, and providing tips for success therein. his voice was consistent, and reminded me very much of him - his curmudgeonly exterior with a heartfelt and (maybe?) vulnerable chewy center. the material is all very good. minor complaints - i don't personally love essays about other writers (emerson, baldwin, etc) ...more
Like most writing books, this one probably won't be helpful for you as a writer. It might offer some reassurance, but the main thing it offers is an insightful conversation on the art of creative/literary nonfiction and the teaching of that art.

That said, if I find myself teaching a course on creative nonfiction, I would probably use this book, largely because it addresses some fundamental questions that a lot of new writers wrestle with.
Joey Gamble
Lopate's voice comes through well here, as it always does; and it is a voice that is so sincere and intelligent that one is shuttled through this small volume. However, the collection seems to have split intentions--it at once bills itself as a guide to "the craft of literary nonfiction," and as what it actually is: a collection of loosely related essays that seem to have been merely thrust together. In this way, the transitions between "chapters" can be rather perfunctory and repetitious. Ultim ...more
Fantastic read of the craft of writing. Highly recommend for any nonfiction writer. A re-reader to highlight and keep around.
Emily Hedges
This is the best book I ever read on how to write creative nonfiction.
Nicola Waldron
Helpful and readable. Provocative, too, like all of Lopate.
I love Phillip Lopate. I enjoy sitting down and following his voice, following his mind. This book brings together several ideas that Mr. Lopate has been espousing the past few years about the essayist, the "made-up self," and the necessity of tweaking that self for the purposes of the essay at hand. Lopate also puts forth the much-welcomed (to me) idea that telling isn't such a bad thing for an essayist to do. Thank you Mr. Lopate. Reflection isn't a bad word, it is what the essayist is in posi ...more
Richard Cytowic
A Dean of the essay genre, and fierce supporter of it for forty-plus years, Phillip Lopate gives, in this slim book, one hell of a sampling of his experience. Essays on personal narrative craft often illustrate the point he's attempting to make.

Then, "Studies of Practitioners" follows, six of them from Baldwin to Emerson.

Closing it out is a remarkable reading list, by category as well as era. A delightful read.
I am very glad I read this book - it gave a lot to think about in terms of both reading and writing nonfiction/memoir. The author points out, very cleverly and educationally the pitfalls of promise of this genre. He looks at both classics in this literature as well as more modern examples. It gave me a lot to think about - and it was written in his always insightful, easy to read, prose.
This is touted as a nuts-and-bolts guide on writing literary nonfiction. This book is far from that. Its scope is narrow. The author mentions many, many nonfiction writers and refers to them for whatever topic he's covering. So unless you're familiar with these writers and their works, it won't mean much to you. I think this book is more for well-read students aspiring to be personal essayists.
World Literature Today
"Unlike trendy essays selected for one edition and replaced in the next, Lopate’s do not date because he has distilled the personal into the universal." - Bernard F. Dick, Fairleigh Dickinson University

This book was reviewed in the November 2013 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full review by visiting our website:
Engaging and useful throughout. Lopate is unafraid to take his own position about the genre, but he does it with skill and clear expertise which left me feeling great trust in his advice. And his bountiful reading list at the end leaves me with plenty of places to go from here.
Rudy Oldeschulte
For a writer, this book is essential. Excellent, as is all of Lopate's writing - full of sound advice, good analysis, easy read and certainly, provokes 'curiousity' - something that Lopate says is necessary for one's research and writing. A book to return there are so many underscored passages.
Wonderful advice from Lopate, whom I trust immensely. These are not the most powerful essays, but they are well-thought out, and they're relevant to anyone who is interested in creative nonfiction. I often felt drawn to reading them in the midst of struggles with my own essay writing.
Rebecca H.
This book is stronger in its earlier sections than in the later ones, but it's still an indispensable study of literary nonfiction as a genre. It's well-written and thought-provoking, with an excellent suggested reading list at the end. Lopate continues to be a favorite.
Ugh, what a disappointment. I went in to this book really *wanting* to like Lopate and learn some good stuff from him, but found myself vehemently disagreeing with 80% of what he would say. Couldn't even finish it, threw it across the room in disgust and had a strong drink.
Though he focuses mostly on essay writing, the author provides insights and examples from years of experience that should be helpful to someone setting out to write creative nonfiction. The book is easy to read, practical and enjoyable.
Endearingly cranky guide to literary nonfiction. Though Lopate claims in his opening that he includes composition instructors in his intended audience, this book is more MFA than MLA. Or so says the composition instructor.
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Phillip Lopate is the author of three personal essay collections, two novels, two poetry collections, a memoir of his teaching experiences, and a collection of his movie criticism. He has edited the following anthologies, and his essays, fiction, poetry, film and architectural criticism have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, The Paris Review, Harper's, Vogue, E ...more
More about Phillip Lopate...
The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan Writing New York: A Literary Anthology American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now Getting Personal: Selected Essays

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“The solution to entrapment in the narcissistic hothouse of self is to not relinquish autobiographical writing, but to expand the self by bringing one's curiosity to interface with more and more history and the present world.” 0 likes
“For all their shared boundaries, the experiences of fiction and nonfiction are fundamentally different. In the traditional short story or novel, a fictive space is opened up that allows you the reader to disappear into the action, even to the point of forgetting you are reading. In the best nonfiction, it seems to me, you’re always made aware that you are being engaged with a supple mind at work. The story line or plot in nonfiction consists of the twists and turns of a thought process working itself out. This is certainly true for the essay, but it is also true, I think, for classic nonfiction in general, be it Thucydides or Pascal or Carlyle, which follows an organizing principle that can be summarized as “tracking the consciousness of the author.” What makes me want to keep reading a nonfiction text is the encounter with a surprising, well-stocked mind as it takes on the challenge of the next sentence, paragraph, and thematic problem it has set for itself. The other element that keeps me reading nonfiction happily is an evolved, entertaining, elegant, or at least highly intentional literary style. The pressure of style should be brought to bear on every passage. “Consciousness plus style equals good nonfiction” is one way of stating the formula.” 0 likes
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