What and So What: Loyalties

Childhood offers most of us ample trauma and exuberance and discovery for several lifetimes of writing. Folks say that Gabriel García Márquez told his friend Mario Vargas Llosa, “Everything I have written I knew or I had heard before I was eight years old.” (We will assume that his awareness of sex perhaps showed up...

Flash Nonfiction and the Art Student: Sharing Tools to Explore How We Make Art

with a sample essay by Mariana Yanes Cabral __ For artists who make things with their hands, their materials provide direct and immediate feedback: No hiding from the result. The lip of a vessel does not curve the way they thought it might. A new layer of paint moves an image from near perfect to...

Using Fiction within Nonfiction to Navigate Difficult Emotional Terrain

My mother was one of the most significant adults in my childhood, as mothers are for many people. Yet when I tried to write about her, my writing fell flat. I was unable to capture her complexity or the complexity of my feelings for her, and she came across as annoying and the narrator (me)...
Craft Essays

Craft Essays

In our May 2017 issue, Peggy Shumaker reminds us that language must come alive before our written lives become interesting to others, Judith I. Padow examines the use of fictional “imagining” in nonfiction, and Jeanette Luise Eberhardy explores connections between visual artists and writing flash essays.

The Essay and the Art of Equivocation

Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I was struggling with a short story for a fiction workshop and turned to a close friend who was, and still is, a master of the form (let’s just say his short-story collection won all the big awards). I was hoping, as all apprentices do, that I...

Truth & Delight: Resisting the Seduction of Surfaces

Among the least pleasant chores of a writing teacher: dissuading students of the notion that what sounds good in a piece of writing is, necessarily, good. It’s the part of my job that I most dread and dislike, the part where I’m forced to play bad cop opposite a classroom full of good cops who...

Beyond “Craft for Craft’s Sake”: Nonfiction and Social Justice

Authors’ Note: We completed this essay in the early days of November 2016. At the time, we felt like our manifesto—our call for an urgent craft infused with social justice—was an outlier, a push from the margins of nonfiction discourse. We thought it was possible that the audience of Brevity could be resistant to, or...

Three Commandments for Writing About Race

A craft essay to accompany our Special Issue on Race, Racism, and Racialization:  Race, unlike a monotheistic god, no longer has a singular ancestry. There are those who like to think it still has, but that paradigm shifted centuries ago.  Thus the first biblical commandment, about a god liberating people from bondage can apply to...
How We See One Another: Our Guest Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

How We See One Another: Our Guest Editors Castro and Sukrungruang in Conversation

Guest editors Joy Castro and Ira Sukrungruang discuss what they hoped for and what they learned in assembling our Special Issue on Race, Racism and Racialization. __ Joy Castro:  Editing this issue with you has been a fascinating process, Ira, and I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to read these essays.  Can you...

Mary Poppins and the Art of Sweetening with Scene

In the essay “Reflection and Retrospection: A Pedagogic Mystery Story,” Phillip Lopate tells us that he has always been attracted to the passages in memoir and personal essay “where the writing takes an analytical, interpretive turn.” He says that he considers these explicative moments to be “the dessert, the reward of prose.” Now, given Brevity’s...

Writing the Truth in Memoir: Don’t Skimp on Objectivity

My ex-husband didn’t love me. He was mean and selfish, and sometimes even cruel. The day he left, I found dating profiles on his computer along with e-mails from other women. He didn’t work for longer than a year at a time, and he drank like he deserved to. He spent most of our three-year...

To Do: Prioritize My Writing

This wasn’t a sabbatical, because I’m not a professor. I’m a professional tutor at a university writing center. It was not a vacation because I have only two weeks, not two months, of that. (No, to me, it was certainly not the vacation peers kept calling it—if it were, I’d actually go to Nepal to...

On Keeping a (Writing) Notebook (or Three)

In her essay “On Keeping a Notebook,” Joan Didion writes about the odd notes she has taken over the years – on conversations she has overheard (“That woman Estelle is partly the reason why George Sharp and I are separated today”), facts she has learned (“during 1964, 720 tons of soot fell on every square...

Becoming a Writer in Due Time

I recently found a line in my old journal that reads, “What I really want to do is get an MFA in creative writing.” I wrote this on April 25, 2000. More than fifteen years ago. At the time I had spent two exhausting years getting a single-subject credential to teach high school English, and...

On Asking the Hard Questions

When I first started writing nonfiction, as an undergraduate creative writing major, I struggled—a lot—to find my subject matter. These days, I write about my ever-evolving relationship with masculinity, particularly now that I have been living openly as a transgender man for five years and have been sporting a beard for three. Back then, though,...

Textures and Contrasts: Starting Points for Travel Writing

We walk toward the Saturday flea market in Hannover, Germany; my eyes saccade between the shop windows and my children, who dart ahead toward the river. A woman is kneeling on the ground at an intersection of this pedestrian zone—a square that interrupts the busy street. In front of her are shopping bags and a...

Revision Advice from the Judges’ Table

Writers are connoisseurs of criticism. At least, this is how I justify some of my love for the television program Top Chef. Each week the show’s “cheftestants” compete in cooking challenges judged by professional chefs, restaurateurs, food critics and celebrity guest-judges. Every episode features moments of creation and revision, as the chefs plan, execute and...

Writing the Sharp Edges of Grief

When I was an undergraduate, I volunteered with a youth outreach program at a local high school. One of “our kids,” a sophomore boy named Nile, lost his father to cancer halfway through the year. Two other youth leaders and I visited Nile at home one evening to offer support. I was just twenty and...