Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction” as Want to Read:
To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  792 ratings  ·  106 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.

Distinguished author Phillip Lopate, editor of the celebrated anthology The Art of the Personal Essay, is universally acclaimed as “one of our best personal essayists” (Dallas Morning News
Paperback, 240 pages
Published February 12th 2013 by Free Press
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about To Show and to Tell, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about To Show and to Tell

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  792 ratings  ·  106 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of To Show and to Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction
Sherilyn Lee
Dec 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Kent Winward
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really enjoyed this, and Lopate has some really good tips if you are trying to write non fiction. The only problem for me was that most of his examples were with his students work, and at some parts he seemed to be bullying which was kind of uncomfortable. There are very few women mentioned, but still this is a great companion to reading about non fiction. Now I want to read more essays, by James Baldwin, Ralph Waldo, and others.
Karen Ashmore
Jul 14, 2015 rated it liked it
A professor at Columbia, Lopate cites his personal experience and his decades of reviewing student work to illustrate his themes in the craft of literary nonfiction. He concentrates on personal essays and memoirs, offers some useful tips, but all were well-worn elements. He has a tendency to keep citing the works of dead white men, which is probably the literary group that holds my least interest. Meh.
Jennifer Louden
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic series of essays about writing creative non-fiction - with such subtle and wonderful explanations of many of the predicaments a writer of memoir or creative non fiction finds herself in. Invaluable.
Lea Page
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-writing
I am a relatively new writer (although not a relatively new person) with little formal training, and it wasn't until I read To Show and To Tell that I identified myself as a writer of literary non-fiction. Lopate writes with a combination of rigor and humor, in what I can only imagine is his regular voice. The book itself shows and tells and is therefore an excellent model of what he seeks to teach. Reading it felt a little bit like finding a tool made for lefties when you are left-handed and ha ...more
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, writing
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.
Anna Conard
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Bow down to Lord Lopate! It feels painfully nerdy to say that I enjoyed reading a craft text, but I blew through this book with delight. Many times, I laughed out loud at what I was reading. And that's definitely because Lopate practices what he preaches. As he discusses following your curiosities, listening to that stubborn contrarian voice in your head, and putting yourself into your work, Lopate crafts himself into an endlessly amusing and "round" narrator that I admire. Even if this book did ...more
Carol Apple
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a collection of essays on writing personal narratives, and it's great. Lopate's an excellent writer. His tackles some great issues, and really makes me want to read a ton of writers I just can't seem to get in to. So in some ways, this is like the sparks notes for the personal essay tradition, but it's also lovely and inspiring. Got me to revise an old essay and start a new one while reading, so not bad. ...more
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you can get past the parts where he trashes Baldwin as overly emotional and critiques female writers' lack of logical consistency while giving David Eggers high praise (these sins are almost unforgivable), this book is very helpful for anyone trying to write non-fiction. He is a good teacher of the form because he seems to respect the art of writing non-fiction. His advice on the personal essay was very good and his advice about writing about family was a bit unsettling--basically, he says tr ...more
D.A. Gray
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Effective, thought-provoking. A supplement that works best when used with a wide range of sample essays and writing prompts. One of the best parts of reading Lopate is his transparency when it comes to his own prejudices when it comes to approaches. The discussions in the classroom help students on either side of an idea to assess their own approaches and to be more deliberate in what they set out to accomplish.
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Instructive and enjoyable; I enjoyed it more than his own essays in Getting Personal
Sonja Tyson
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, how-to
What a great book! My first experience with Lopate was from his introduction in his anthology of The Art of the Personal Essay. This book is a wonderful and personal introduction to those elements which Lopate considers important in the craft of writing the personal essay. The book is indispensable just because of the booklist in the back. Now I have to go to the library.
Shannon Whitehead
It's easy to tell that Phillip Lopate is passionate and well-educated on the craft of writing essays. There were a few useful bits of insight that I could take away, but overall I found this book to be surprisingly and overwhelmingly dense. I might be too amateur of a writer to glean much from it, but I tried, and still got lost (and bored) in an unneeded amount of detail. The author went on tangents about other authors' lives, his personal preferences, and his students that didn't give me any p ...more
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Rich with insights and inspiration. And great reading recommendations.
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Some great info for teaching/writing CNF re: turning oneself into character, how or when to "end" an essay, research, etc. What I have a problem with, is Lopate's brevity with lyric essays. (Poet review here!) I was expecting the same sort of guidance or discussion as many of the other chapters, though was surprised to find this is one area of CNF he is not versed in. Which is fine-- but we ARE reading "the craft of literary nonfiction" which, in my mind, includes the lyric. Like, if you're cons ...more
Charles Michael  Fischer
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lopate's passionate argument for "telling" is refreshing, and a much needed rebuttal to creative writing instructors who misteach memoir as nothing more than a real story told through fictional devices. If so, why bother writing a memoir? Write an autobiographical novel instead.

Lopate argues for better harmony between "showing" and scene vs. telling, which is where the memoirist interprets, analyzes, pontificates, digresses, integrates research, etc. Telling is not the same in both genres. Also
Linda Tapp
Oct 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Sep 08, 2015 rated it liked it
The first few chapters provide good direction, but very soon he loses his own. He becomes professorial and didactic. He veers off on self-absorbed tangents. He starts to bloviate, and then he can't seem to stop. I had a college English professor, an older, privileged white guy in the classic mold, who, when I asked for a recommendation for a Fulbright application, told me I was too shy and not aggressive enough to get one. Lopate reminds me of that guy. I can sense that he has some wisdom and so ...more
Sara Habein
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book
I didn't always agree with Lopate (his attitude towards James Baldwin is a bit dismissive, for instance), but this book gave me a lot to think about. Worth a read if you're interested in creative nonfiction, but perhaps not at full cover price. ...more
Belle Beth Cooper
Leans too heavily on other authors without adding to the summaries of their work. The first third or so was useful in understanding the structure of personal essays, though.
Lindsay Hickman
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
I love reading about writing and writers of any craft from the personal essay, nonfiction, novel or the craziest Science Fiction piece imaginable. I love reading about how writers shape their craft, who or what has inspired their writing and what I can learn from each of them. I read this book right after reading Lee Gutkind, and nothing against Lopate but Gutkind was just far more interesting. Gutkind's book made me want to be a writer, Lopate's made me want to finish the book so I wouldn't hav ...more
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This short but meaningful collection of essays by Phillip Lopate about essay and non-fiction writing sends readers and writers alike on a journey to think and rethink our use of words, sentences, and ideas into a cornucopia blossoming with purposeful prose. Lopate allows writers to take a deep breath and sigh with relief as he retraces some of the most formal writing practices and considers new directions, edges, and pathways to authorial beauty.

His essays are succinct but warm, thoughtful but f
Oct 05, 2019 rated it liked it
A charming, sometimes thought-provoking collection of essays about essays, by a very well-read author from a slightly earlier era. Phillip Lopate riffs on the state of the craft, elements of a "great" essay, and his favorite essayists. He's curious, thoughtful, self-deprecating, and a bit stodgy in a good-humored, self-aware way. His reading repertoire skews heavily white and male, hewing to the Eurocentric "canon" of the literary "establishment," and he seems less self-aware about that. I wish ...more
Michael A. Van Kerckhove
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writerly, 2020
I picked this up at my Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago a little while back. I've been reading through it in between other books these last several weeks. It's been good to "talk shop" as I've been thinking about my own writing during All This, particularly my for-the-page-and-stage creative nonfiction that's been my wheelhouse for nearly two decades now. The book is now filled with penciled underlines and stars and brackets that I'll return to for inspiration and brain food. Especially as I work ...more
Margaret1358 Joyce
Aug 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lapote gives us an inside look at the mechanics of the literary essay and memoir genre, and as such, it's pointed and entertaining without being superficial. Along with several 'musts' of the genre(s), he gives insightful analyses of the styles of writers as varied as Montaigne, Emerson, Baldwin and Shields. A comprehensive ( 14 pages!!!) reading list is tacked on to the end.
A good summation of his thought is found on page 208: "Broadly speaking, given all the risks of distortion and self-serv
Kerry Zukus
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
I'm always picking up writing how-to books to keep upping my craft, but this one is a must-miss. The eye-catching title (who among us hasn't heard an editor drone, "You must show, not tell!") draws us in to tell us that in personal memoir, yes, we can tell sometimes. Other than that, the entire concept of this book is mislabeled, as instead of truly focusing on non-fiction (one would assume books or other long-form), it analyses the essay (short-form). Furthermore, I had to skip dozens of chapte ...more
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative
  • Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them
  • The Art of Memoir
  • The Writing Life
  • Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft
  • Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction
  • The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry
  • A Poetry Handbook
  • The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks
  • In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction
  • Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author's Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development
  • The Art of Creative Nonfiction: Writing and Selling the Literature of Reality
  • The Boys of My Youth
  • Fire Shut Up in My Bones
  • First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process
  • How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays
  • The Complete Guide to Facebook Advertising
  • How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
19 likes · 8 comments
“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.” 6 likes
“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,” 3 likes
More quotes…