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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

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  560 Ratings  ·  79 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
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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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. Rich with insights and inspiration. And great reading recommendations.
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
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read2013, writing
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jacqueline Patricks
Oct 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, how-to
review to follow
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
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
Janet Eshenroder
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Sorry for the two stars. It is not due to the writing but my interest. The author is very knowledgeable and presents excellent information. Since his past expertise is in essays that subject tends to dominate. The section of memoir writing was of more interest to me and he offered a few ideas I found helpful. The majority of the book was detailed critiques of famous essayists.
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Lopate's detailed lessons are invaluable to anyone wanting to learn to write CNF. Great for students and aspiring writers of all types, he teaches you how to turn yourself into a character, to be relate-able, and to use context to create essays full of life and truth.
Shawn Scarber Deggans
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
More an introduction to great essay writing and the writers of great essays than a "how to" book, but definitely something I would recommend for anyone interested in writing the literary personal essay.
Wendy Wagner
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring writing about writing essays. The suggested reading alone is worth the price of the book, but it's the author's engaging, sometimes snarky voice that makes this so enjoyable. I didn't want it to be done!
Heather Jacobsen
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book gave good "food for thought," but there was a lot more about the essay form than I was looking for.
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
One of the best books that I've read on writing in years. One of my favorite observations: "Writer friends often do approach each other as walking books."
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the most useful books I’ve read so far about essay writing. Keeping this one on my desk
Sara Lissa Paulson
Jan 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
so much wisdom here and wild words like "peristatic"!!
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of memoir, essay; writers looking to improve their craft
Delightful read and a great mini-course complete with recommended reading list I wish I had enough remaining years to wade through. Lopate is a fierce and learned advocate of literary non-fiction and it was a pleasure to spend the time in these pages with his survey of the history, practice, and state of the art.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I often agreed with the views Lopate expresses here. He is right that there is a genuine, important difference between fiction and non-fiction; that it is a bad idea to try to turn an essay into a poem or mystery story; and that there's nothing wrong with telling your reader what you're thinking directly instead of always trying to "show" it. In fact, I wish he would have explored these views more thoroughly. I suppose he had reason to keep things light and easy for students. Still, I wouldn't h ...more
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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
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