“I had a snobbish contempt for blogs, but just because I had a contempt for it, I thought perversely, ‘Maybe I can appropriate it and push it in a different direction.'”
With his new collection, A YEAR AND A DAY: AN EXPERIMENT IN ESSAYS (NYRB), master essayist Phillip Lopate explores the world & himself through the mode of a weekly blog. We get into how he adapted to a short, time-constrained essay form for The American Scholar, how he avoided The Columnist’s Curse (limitless curiosity helps!), whether an essayist can truly write about anything, and how he has and hasn’t changed since the 2016-17 period in which he wrote these pieces. We talk about Phillip’s integration of the private and public self in his writing, how his wife & daughter felt about being included in this book, the question of whether he’s fulfilled as a writer, why he hides his journal, and how editing the three Great American Essay collections allowed him to leave something canonical behind for students & readers. We also discuss how it feels when readers thinking they know him from his essays, how his books and essays add up to a fragmentary, lifelong memoir (and why he’ll likely never write an actual memoir or autobiography), why his multiple myeloma diagnosis was more of a psychological hit than a physical one, how he found himself working on a biography of Washington Irving, the benefits of a fragmentary unitary self, his thoughts on present-day personal essay tropes, the career validation of being inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Letters, and a LOT more. Give it a listen! And go read A Year And A Day!
“Conversational doesn’t mean the writing can be sloppy; it means there’s a push-pull of address, working with an audience.”
“It used to be assumed that an essayist would provide perspective, detachment and to some degree distance from the experience he or she was relating.”
“The thing that’s stopped me from writing a memoir — as opposed to this hunt-and-peck approach through my essays — is the question, ‘What IS the theme of my life?'”
“The mask is very close to me, but it’s still a mask.”
About our Guest
Phillip Lopate is the author of the essay collections Against Joie de Vivre, Bachelorhood, Being with Children, Portrait of My Body, and Totally, Tenderly, Tragically; and of the novels The Rug Merchant and Confessions of a Summer. He has edited the anthologies The Art of the Personal Essay, The Glorious American Essay, The Golden Age of the American Essay, and The Contemporary American Essay. His most recent books are Portrait Inside My Head, To Show and to Tell, and A Mother’s Tale. His latest is A Year And A Day.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at his home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Phillip by me. It’s on my instagram.