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The American Story Essays

“The concluding volume of D’Agata’s massive trilogy of anthologies on the nonfiction form showcases a remarkable array of writers from Anne Bradstreet to Kathy Acker.”Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“D’Agata’s pioneering spirit in these volumes offers one of the most broadminded views of creative nonfiction in the persona of the essay.”Signature Reads

“I would say that out of the twenty some years I’ve been doing this show there are few books that I’m certain will be read well beyond the show’s lifetime, and it’s been an honor to be associated with them.”—Michael Silverblatt, KCRW’s Bookworm

“Ben Lerner and Knausgaard and Davis Means and that whole style/school/movement are intensely pursuing the same sort of track as D’Agata is here arguing for. . . . That may be the strangest aspect of this monumental undertaking he’s now completed: while it’s impossible to guess the full measure of its impact, what it’s already done to contemporary literature is profound. . . . However the contemporary canon ends up being adjudicated and constructed, you’d be wise to put money on D’Agata and this trilogy having a significant presence in its DNA.”The Brooklyn Rail

The Making of the American Essay is a book worthy of its grand title. . . . D’Agata is a fervent guide. . . . leaving readers yearning for more.”The Columbus Dispatch

“An ambitious project that casts far and wide for exemplary contributions to the essay as a risk-taking work of art.”Lambda Literary

“John D’Agata cements his status as a master curator and champion of nonfiction with The Making of the American Essay, the final installment of his trilogy of anthologies of essays.”Largehearted Boy

“John D’Agata is a champion of the essay, a crusader for lost forms, a defender of nonfiction as an art. . . . [The Making of the American Essay] shifts his position from expert to shaper; through his curation and introductions to these essays, D’Agata proves himself to be not only a scholar and proponent of the essay but also an artificer of the form. . . . His project—that of reshaping the genre of creative nonfiction—is a bold one. . . . All of D’Agata’s companion pieces prove the intensity of his attention to each author’s legacy; they reveal new textures and fresh angles to each author’s work.”The Iowa Review

“The trilogy is nothing if not deeply researched: those 121 collected essays are his primary sources. And though he never really sets them in a wider social or cultural setting, preferring instead to nest each essay inside a thin cocoon of events that occurred in the essay’s birth year, they stand among each other in a long intellectual and aesthetic tradition, providing mutual context. . . . The essays don’t simply provide shoulders for their neighbors to lean on; instead, D’Agata chose them and arranged them in his own idiosyncratic way so that they might speak to each other. . . . D’Agata’s collection will tell you that the essay is not a genre—which is why D’Agata never defines it—but something universally human, an action and an orientation towards the world, an attempt to make meaning from the raw material of fact. . . . Facts are metaphors that can be rung like bells, and the essay, a form fabricated from fact, an attempt to strike a fact in such a way that it sets a thousand other facts resonating sympathetically, thereby raising from the cold, rational, dead past a living chorus of souls all in harmony. D’Agata’s brilliance, it seems to me, lies in never unshackling the two senses of the essay from each other.”3:AM Magazine

“John D’Agata is America’s most intellectually eloquent reader of the essay. His passion for the form has led him to search for and discover a treasure trove of what the genre is capable of. With this third and final volume of his long labor of love he gives us a defining work of reference that will serve generations to come of essay readers the world over.”—Vivian Gornick

“John D’Agata has given our civilization an inexhaustible gift with his three massive compendia of the recent past, the remote past, and the ingenious present and speculative future of the essay. Monumental and intellectually and imaginatively generous, these books are not only absorbing reading but wonderful examples of how, in the right hands, the act of anthologizing becomes an art in its own right.”—Vijay Seshadri

“John D’Agata’s alternative histories of the essay are anthologies in the same way the aurora borealis is actually a bunch of charged collisions; in his books we get to see pieces of art crash against his own restless brilliance. In this third installment, he is once more a stunning curator, giving us the story of the American essay as a strange, nimble creature—vexed and incandescent in its uncertainties, constantly surprising in its negotiations of anguish, mischief, and awe. Here we find ancient varieties of wonder and doubt provisionally fleshed in captivity tales and curiosity cabinets; we find silence and insomnia, blood and swollen moons. This American history is also a history of unknowing itself: a record of the human impulse to metabolize the world and a record of this impulse continually meeting the world’s infinitudes.”—Leslie Jamison

“It’s clear that the past fifteen-or-so years saw a rethinking and a rebirth of the essay, and equally clear that John D’Agata’s work was essential in both. He pushed the form forward with one hand and extended our grasp of its roots with the other. He remains as exciting to read as to argue with, and his hunting in the worlds of lost non-fiction has shown me many new writers and texts. The Making of the American Essay completes a series on the subject and brings the achievement of all three books into focus. It is major.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan

“Please, if the world gets blown to smithereens tomorrow, let this series be the one that tells the next civilization all that we thought and dreamt and said. John D’Agata has done something truly remarkable here: as archivist and archaeologist, as artist and impresario of the purest literary form—the essay—he has left a dazzling record of, as he puts it, ‘our human wondering.’ A New History of the Essay is learned and idiosyncratic, addictive and wildly entertaining. It belongs on every shelf.”—Michael Paterniti

“At last The Making of the American Essay completes John D’Agata’s anthology series, A New History of the Essay. Here the crucial middle years—how we got here—have been filled in, and we can understand anew just how the essay, our American essay, has grown and lived and been written and rewritten. This canon-making is a major undertaking and an astonishing act of literary generosity for which we all should be grateful. As D’Agata puts it, ‘The world, we all know, is already a nonfiction. Let the essay be what we make of it.’ Emphasis on the make—these are the essays we have made, and of these essays we are made—but also on the we. The essay may be a solo thing, but these are songs for all of us to sing.”—Ander Monson

“Nothing could be sweeter than another hugely ambitious and visionary gathering of essays from John D’Agata and Graywolf. In the preceding anthologies I’ve sat in my chair and circled the world, sought out the past, and looked into the future. Now set squarely in America, once again the essay, that most humble and solitary of forms, finds its epic account, rising out of a flood and sweeping toward a horizon of ellipses, a leaving off and a farewell that generously makes room . . . for more . . . more of our voices, more of our shapes, more of our secrets and uncertainties, more of the teeming and inventive energy inside the simplest facts . . . and more of us, reader and writer alike, because in the end this wild and wandering epic is our song to sing.”—Charles D’Ambrosio

“For well over a decade now, John D’Agata has been the renovator-in-chief of the American essay. As practitioner and theorist, writer and anthologist, as example and the enabler of examples, D’Agata has refused to yield to the idea of non-fiction as stable, fixed, already formed. . . . Instead, he has pushed the essay to yield more of itself, to find within itself an enactment of its own etymology—an essaying, a trying, a perpetual attempt at something (after the French verb essayer, to try). He has emphasized that the essay should make, and not merely take; that it should gamble with the fictive and not just trade in the real; that it should entertain uncertainty as often as it hosts opinion; that the essay can be as lyrical, as fragmented, as self-interrupting, and as self-conscious as the most experimental fiction or verse. . . . ‘Let the essay be what we make of it,’ is D’Agata’s refrain, and his three large anthologies have made good on that promise.”—James Wood, from the foreword to A New History of the Essay

“John D’Agata is a groundbreaking literary activist. It is due to him and these anthologies that the most exciting writing today is happening in the realm of nonfiction, in particularly the realm of the essay, which he has, near-single-handedly, rescued from the literary dustbin and turned into a vital contemporary art form. A New History of the Essay is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of nonfiction.”—Heidi Julavits

“John D’Agata’s anthologies are always stimulating, provocative and full of surprises. Moreover they invaluably extend our notion of what an essay is and can be. This third volume provides the fitting capstone to a brilliant, insanely ambitious endeavor. There are enough nourishing pieces to munch on for years to come.” —Phillip Lopate

“John D’Agata has provided a wonderful—and useful—map of the vast territory that is the American essay.”—Lewis Hyde

Book Description:

InThe Story of America, Harvard historian andNew Yorkerstaff writer Jill Lepore investigates American origin stories--from John Smith's account of the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to Barack Obama's 2009 inaugural address--to show how American democracy is bound up with the history of print. Over the centuries, Americans have read and written their way into a political culture of ink and type.

Part civics primer, part cultural history,The Story of Americaexcavates the origins of everything from the paper ballot and the Constitution to the I.O.U. and the dictionary. Along the way it presents fresh readings of Benjamin Franklin'sWay to Wealth, Thomas Paine'sCommon Sense, "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, and "Paul Revere's Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, as well as histories of lesser-known genres, including biographies of presidents, novels of immigrants, and accounts of the Depression.

From past to present, Lepore argues, Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories. In this thoughtful and provocative book, Lepore offers at once a history of origin stories and a meditation on storytelling itself.

eISBN: 978-1-4008-4455-5

Subjects: History