CNF tip of the week: lyric essay

Lyric Essay

A lyric essay uses the techniques of poetry, including compression, sound play, white space, formal innovation, non-linear narrative, and juxtaposition to explore an idea or an experience in the writer’s life. Lyric essays may be structured as collage or mosaic, as braided or woven narratives, as “flash” snapshots, or wedged within the carapace of other forms such as instruction manuals, rejection letters, lists, or maps, and they may also make use of images. They often rely on research in addition to personal experience. Typically, they make greater demands on the reader than other types of creative nonfiction, so for some, they are an acquired taste—but those who love them can’t get enough!

A few examples

Brenda Miller: “36 Holes.”

Nicole Breit: “Spectrum.” (CNFC award winner!)

Eula Biss: “The Pain Scale.”

Judith Kitchen: “On the Farm.”

To learn more

CNF tip of the week: memoir


A memoir is an attempt to make artful sense of some aspect or period of the author’s life. The facts may be unusual or traumatic, or they may be ordinary and unremarkable. “What happened” is less important in memoir than the clarity, grace, or originality of the writer’s style and the honest pursuit of self-knowledge. As V.S. Pritchett said, “It’s all in the art. You get no credit for living.”

A few examples

Joan Didion: “Goodbye to All That.

Kevin Chong: “Every Stepfather Has His Day.”

Ayelet Tsabari: “Yemeni Soup and Other Recipes.”  (scroll for PDF)

Eufemia Fantetti: “Alphabet Autobiographica.”

To learn more


CNF tip of the week: literary journalism

Literary journalism

Literary or narrative journalism is writing that combines the stylistic techniques of fiction, such as dialogue, character development, and scene-setting, with the nitty-gritty accuracy of reporting and research. The subject matter can be anything, from an election campaign to the profile of an artist, from the exploration of a cultural phenomenon to a true crime story or a scientific discovery. But whatever the topic, the author’s voice or point of view is key to the power of the piece.

A few examples

George Orwell: “A Hanging.”

Joan Didion: “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.”

Desmond Cole: “The Skin I’m In.”

Katherine Ashenburg: “Critical Mass.

To learn more