50 Creative Non-Fiction Anthology

Creative Non-Fiction Anthology

Essays in the anthology are presented in alphabetical order by author. You may jump to an author by clicking on their name in the bulleted list below.

Buzz Bissinger

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Buzz Bissinger licensed CC BY SA.

Harry Gerard Bissinger III, also known as Buzz Bissinger and H. G. Bissinger (born November 1, 1954) is an American journalist and author, best known for his 1990 non-fiction book Friday Night Lights. He is a longtime contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. In 2019, HBO released a documentary on Mr. Bissinger titled “Buzz”.

Born in New York, his father was a former president of the municipal bond firm Lebenthal & Company. He graduated from Phillips Academy in 1972 and from the University of Pennsylvania in 1976, where he was a sports and opinion editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Bissinger is perhaps best known for his book Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, which documents the 1988 season of the football team of Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. This work was the inspiration for the 1993 television series Against the Grain, and was turned into a successful film (which was released in October 2004), and a television series which debuted on NBC on October 3, 2006. The book has sold nearly two million copies. In a list of the one hundred best books on sports ever, Sports Illustrated ranked Friday Night Lights fourth and the best ever on football. ESPN called Friday Night Lights the best book on sports over the past quarter-century.

Podcast with Buzz Bissinger

Questions to Consider

  1. What role does football play in the lives of the people of Odessa?
  2. What conclusions concerning Odessa might be drawn from the fact that its high school football program is valued more highly than the town’s history?
  3. What attributes are celebrated in this essay? What value do those attributes have for the football players and the community? What other personal qualities might be of equal or greater value?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Buzz Bissinger on Friday Night Lights:

Scenes from the show:


Judith Ortiz Cofer

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Judith Ortiz Cofer in the Public Domain

Judith Ortiz Cofer (February 24, 1952 – December 30, 2016) was a Puerto Rican American author. Her critically acclaimed and award-winning work spans a range of literary genres including poetry, short stories, autobiography, essays, and young-adult fiction. Ortiz Cofer was the Emeritus Regents’ and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, where she taught undergraduate and graduate creative writing workshops for 26 years. In 2010, Ortiz Cofer was inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, and in 2013, she won the University’s 2014 Southeastern Conference Faculty Achievement Award.

Ortiz Cofer hailed from a family of story tellers and drew heavily from her personal experiences as a Puerto Rican American woman. In her work, Ortiz Cofer brings a poetic perspective to the intersection of memory and imagination. Writing in diverse genres, she investigated women issues, Latino culture, and the American South. Ortiz Cofer’s work weaves together private life and public space through intimate portrayals of family relationships and rich descriptions of place. Her own papers are currently housed at the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Ortiz Cofer received a B.A. in English from Augusta College, and later an M.A. in English literature from Florida Atlantic University. Early in her writing career, Ortiz Cofer won fellowships from Oxford University and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, which enabled her to begin developing her multi-genre body of work. Cofer was fluent in English and Spanish and worked as a bilingual teacher in the public schools of Palm Beach County, Florida, during the 1974-1975 school year. After she received her master’s degree and published her first collection of poems she became a lecturer in English at the University of Miami at Coral Gables. In 1984, Ortiz Cofer joined the faculty of the University of Georgia as the Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing. After 26 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate students, Ortiz Cofer retired from the University of Georgia in December 2013. Ortiz Cofer is best known for creative nonfiction works but she has worked in poetry, short fiction, children’s books, and personal narrative. Cofer began her writing career with poetry, which she believed contained “the essence of language.” One of her earliest books was Peregrina (1986) which won the Riverstone International Chapbook Competition. She has received various awards such as grants from the Witter Bynner Foundation and the Georgia Council for the Arts, as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for poetry, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Florida Fine Arts Council. In 2010 Ortiz Cofer was admitted to the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.

Transcript of an interview with Cofer.

Judith Cofer interview:

Questions to Consider

  1. How does the author use figurative language to portray her feelings?
  2. Does Cofer give readers any clues about the outcome of the story?
  3. How does the author reveal her heritage in the story?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

An audio version:

Joan Didion

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Joan Didion CC SA.

Joan Didion (born December 5, 1934) is an American writer who launched her career in the 1960s after winning an essay contest sponsored by Vogue magazine. Didion’s writing during the 1960s through the late 1970s engaged audiences in the realities of the counterculture of the 1960s and the Hollywood lifestyle. Her political writing often concentrated on the subtext of political and social rhetoric. In 1991, she wrote the earliest mainstream media article to suggest the Central Park Five had been wrongfully convicted. In 2005, she won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Biography/Autobiography for The Year of Magical Thinking. She later adapted the book into a play, which premiered on Broadway in 2007. In 2017, Didion was profiled in the Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold, directed by her nephew Griffin Dunne.

Didion recalls writing things down as early as the age of five, though she says she never saw herself as a writer until after her work had been published. She identified as a “shy, bookish child” who pushed herself to overcome social anxiety through acting and public speaking. She read everything she could get her hands on.

Didion’s early education did not follow the traditional format. Didion attended kindergarten and first grade, but because her father was in the Army Air Corps during World War II and her family was constantly relocated, she did not attend school on a regular basis. In 1943 or early 1944, her family returned to Sacramento, and her father went to Detroit to negotiate defense contracts for World War II.

In 1956, Didion received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley. During her senior year, she won first place in the “Prix de Paris” essay contest sponsored by Vogue, and was awarded a job as a research assistant at the magazine, having written a story on the San Francisco architect William Wilson Wurster.

During her seven years at Vogue, Didion worked her way up from promotional copywriter to associate feature editor. While there, and homesick for California, she wrote her first novel, Run, River, which was published in 1963. Writer and friend John Gregory Dunne helped her edit the book, and the two moved into an apartment together. A year later they married, and Didion returned to California with her new husband. In 1968, she published her first work of nonfiction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a collection of magazine pieces about her experiences in California.

In 2007, Didion received the National Book Foundation’s annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. That same year, Didion also won the Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America.


Interview with Didion:

Questions to Consider (Goodbye to All That)

  1. How does Didion employ sensory detail to draw us into her experience of New York City? What general impression of New York is created by the essay?
  2. How does Didion use catalogs (or lists) to help generate a panoramic impression of the city in her early years there?
  3. What do you think is the general message of this essay?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Frederick Douglass

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Frederick Douglass in the Public Domain

Frederick Douglass was born in slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey near Easton in Talbot County, Maryland. He was not sure of the exact year of his birth, but he knew that it was 1817 or 1818. As a young boy he was sent to Baltimore to be a house servant, where he learned to read and write with the assistance of his master’s wife. In 1838 he escaped from slavery and went to New York City, where he married Anna Murray, a free colored woman whom he had met in Baltimore. Soon thereafter he changed his name to Frederick Douglass. After fleeing to the North, he worked with other abolitionists and gave public lectures about his life in the South and the slaves’ conditions; these public lectures became the basis for Narrative.

In Narrative, Douglass famously recounts his first experience of literacy and his realization of its importance for freedom. He also makes references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and other works such as The Columbian Orator. Narrative is often regarded as the finest example of the slave narrative not only for its content but also for its eloquence and literary artistry. The slave narrative refers to (auto)biographical written accounts or fictional works about enslaved people, especially enslaved Africans. While the American slave narrative is itself a distinct literary genre, Douglass’s Narrative has characteristics corresponding to 19th-century Realism in its testimonial desire for realistic representations of slaves’ lives in North America, its unabashed attention to objective (including brutal) details, and its desire for democracy and human equality.

“Learning to Read and Write” is an excerpt from Douglass’ Narrative.


My new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first met her at the door,—a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings. She had never had a slave under her control previously to myself, and prior to her marriage she had been dependent upon her own industry for a living. She was by trade a weaver; and by constant application to her business, she had been in a good degree preserved from the blighting and dehumanizing effects of slavery. I was utterly astonished at her goodness. I scarcely knew how to behave towards her. She was entirely unlike any other white woman I had ever seen. I could not approach her as I was accustomed to approach other white ladies. My early instruction was all out of place. The crouching servility, usually so acceptable a quality in a slave, did not answer when manifested toward her. Her favor was not gained by it; she seemed to be disturbed by it. She did not deem it impudent or unmannerly for a slave to look her in the face. The meanest slave was put fully at ease in her presence, and none left without feeling better for having seen her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.

But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly commenced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learning to spell words of three or four letters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, further, he said, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both.

I had resided but a short time in Baltimore before I observed a marked difference, in the treatment of slaves, from that which I had witnessed in the country. A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on the plantation. He is much better fed and clothed, and enjoys privileges altogether unknown to the slave on the plantation. There is a vestige of decency, a sense of shame, that does much to curb and check those outbreaks of atrocious cruelty so commonly enacted upon the plantation. He is a desperate slaveholder, who will shock the humanity of his non-slaveholding neighbors with the cries of his lacerated slave. Few are willing to incur the odium attaching to the reputation of being a cruel master; and above all things, they would not be known as not giving a slave enough to eat. Every city slaveholder is anxious to have it known of him, that he feeds his slaves well; and it is due to them to say, that most of them do give their slaves enough to eat. There are, however, some painful exceptions to this rule. Directly opposite to us, on Philpot Street, lived Mr. Thomas Hamilton. He owned two slaves. Their names were Henrietta and Mary. Henrietta was about twenty-two years of age, Mary was about fourteen; and of all the mangled and emaciated creatures I ever looked upon, these two were the most so. His heart must be harder than stone, that could look upon these unmoved. The head, neck, and shoulders of Mary were literally cut to pieces. I have frequently felt her head, and found it nearly covered with festering sores, caused by the lash of her cruel mistress. I do not know that her master ever whipped her, but I have been an eye-witness to the cruelty of Mrs. Hamilton. I used to be in Mr. Hamilton’s house nearly every day. Mrs. Hamilton used to sit in a large chair in the middle of the room, with a heavy cowskin always by her side, and scarce an hour passed during the day but was marked by the blood of one of these slaves. The girls seldom passed her without her saying, “Move faster, you black gip!” at the same time giving them a blow with the cowskin over the head or shoulders, often drawing the blood. She would then say, “Take that, you black gip!” continuing, “If you don’t move faster, I’ll move you!” Added to the cruel lashings to which these slaves were subjected, they were kept nearly half-starved. They seldom knew what it was to eat a full meal. I have seen Mary contending with the pigs for the offal thrown into the street. So much was Mary kicked and cut to pieces, that she was oftener called “pecked” than by her name


I lived in Master Hugh’s family about seven years. During this time, I succeeded in learning to read and write. In accomplishing this, I was compelled to resort to various stratagems. I had no regular teacher. My mistress, who had kindly commenced to instruct me, had, in compliance with the advice and direction of her husband, not only ceased to instruct, but had set her face against my being instructed by any one else. It is due, however, to my mistress to say of her, that she did not adopt this course of treatment immediately. She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.

My mistress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-hearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practise her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.

From this time I was most narrowly watched. If I was in a separate room any considerable length of time, I was sure to be suspected of having a book, and was at once called to give an account of myself. All this, however, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell.

The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent of errands, I always took my book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was always in the house, and to which I was always welcome; for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. I am strongly tempted to give the names of two or three of those little boys, as a testimonial of the gratitude and affection I bear them; but prudence forbids;—not that it would injure me, but it might embarrass them; for it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. It is enough to say of the dear little fellows, that they lived on Philpot Street, very near Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard. I used to talk this matter of slavery over with them. I would sometimes say to them, I wished I could be as free as they would be when they got to be men. “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?” These words used to trouble them; they would express for me the liveliest sympathy, and console me with the hope that something would occur by which I might be free.

I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled “The Columbian Orator.” Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among much of other interesting matter, I found in it a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times. The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument in behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive things in reply to his master—things which had the desired though unexpected effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on the part of the master.

In the same book, I met with one of Sheridan’s mighty speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them over and over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments brought forward to sustain slavery; but while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieved. The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast. I preferred the condition of the meanest reptile to my own. Any thing, no matter what, to get rid of thinking! It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me. There was no getting rid of it. It was pressed upon me by every object within sight or hearing, animate or inanimate. The silver trump of freedom had roused my soul to eternal wakefulness. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. It was heard in every sound, and seen in every thing. It was ever present to torment me with a sense of my wretched condition. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star, it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind, and moved in every storm.

I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed. While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery. I was a ready listener. Every little while, I could hear something about the abolitionists. It was some time before I found what the word meant. It was always used in such connections as to make it an interesting word to me. If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition. Hearing the word in this connection very often, I set about learning what it meant. The dictionary afforded me little or no help. I found it was “the act of abolishing;” but then I did not know what was to be abolished. Here I was perplexed. I did not dare to ask any one about its meaning, for I was satisfied that it was something they wanted me to know very little about. After a patient waiting, I got one of our city papers, containing an account of the number of petitions from the north, praying for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and of the slave trade between the States. From this time I understood the words abolition and abolitionist, and always drew near when that word was spoken, expecting to hear something of importance to myself and fellow-slaves. The light broke in upon me by degrees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Waters; and seeing two Irishmen unloading a scow of stone, I went, unasked, and helped them. When we had finished, one of them came to me and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, “Are ye a slave for life?” I told him that I was. The good Irishman seemed to be deeply affected by the statement. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a little fellow as myself should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both advised me to run away to the north; that I should find friends there, and that I should be free. I pretended not to be interested in what they said, and treated them as if I did not understand them; for I feared they might be treacherous. White men have been known to encourage slaves to escape, and then, to get the reward, catch them and return them to their masters. I was afraid that these seemingly good men might use me so; but I nevertheless remembered their advice, and from that time I resolved to run away. I looked forward to a time at which it would be safe for me to escape. I was too young to think of doing so immediately; besides, I wished to learn how to write, as I might have occasion to write my own pass. I consoled myself with the hope that I should one day find a good chance. Meanwhile, I would learn to write.

The idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by being in Durgin and Bailey’s ship-yard, and frequently seeing the ship carpenters, after hewing, and getting a piece of timber ready for use, write on the timber the name of that part of the ship for which it was intended. When a piece of timber was intended for the larboard side, it would be marked thus—”L.” When a piece was for the starboard side, it would be marked thus—”S.” A piece for the larboard side forward, would be marked thus—”L. F.” When a piece was for starboard side forward, it would be marked thus—”S. F.” For larboard aft, it would be marked thus—”L. A.” For starboard aft, it would be marked thus—”S. A.” I soon learned the names of these letters, and for what they were intended when placed upon a piece of timber in the ship-yard. I immediately commenced copying them, and in a short time was able to make the four letters named. After that, when I met with any boy who I knew could write, I would tell him I could write as well as he. The next word would be, “I don’t believe you. Let me see you try it.” I would then make the letters which I had been so fortunate as to learn, and ask him to beat that. In this way I got a good many lessons in writing, which it is quite possible I should never have gotten in any other way. During this time, my copy-book was the board fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write. I then commenced and continued copying the Italics in Webster’s Spelling Book, until I could make them all without looking on the book. By this time, my little Master Thomas had gone to school, and learned how to write, and had written over a number of copy-books. These had been brought home, and shown to some of our near neighbors, and then laid aside. My mistress used to go to class meeting at the Wilk Street meetinghouse every Monday afternoon, and leave me to take care of the house. When left thus, I used to spend the time in writing in the spaces left in Master Thomas’s copy-book, copying what he had written. I continued to do this until I could write a hand very similar to that of Master Thomas. Thus, after a long, tedious effort for years, I finally succeeded in learning how to write.

Questions to Consider

  1. How does Douglass’s Narrative demonstrate the power of both orality, literacy, and the power of truth in creative nonfiction?
  2. When Douglass was writing his Narrative, slavery was still not abolished in the United States. How do you think this historical context might have led Douglass to specific decisions on the content of Narrative?

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Chadwick Boseman reads from Narrative:

Richard P Feynman

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Richard Feynman licensed CC BY SA.

Richard Phillips Feynman ( May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) was an American theoretical physicist, known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as his work in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga.

Feynman developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions describing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World, he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. Along with his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology. He held the Richard C. Tolman professorship in theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology.

Feynman was a keen popularizer of physics through both books and lectures, including a 1959 talk on top-down nanotechnology called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom and the three-volume publication of his undergraduate lectures, The Feynman Lectures on Physics. Feynman also became known through his semi-autobiographical books Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think?, and books written about him such as Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton and the biography Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick.

A lecture from Feynman in 1975:

Leonard Susskind talks about being friends with Richard Feynman:

Richard P. Feynman’s work “The Value of Science” focuses on the subject of science in a context more social than personal. In fact, it was originally offered as a lecture in 1955 for the National Academy of Sciences. As you read the work, consider how it might have been shaped by its original intent for lecture delivery to an audience composed primarily of scientists.

Questions to Consider

  1. In the beginning of the lecture, Feynman says that in talking not about scientific subjects but rather about values, he is “as dumb as the next guy.” How does this notion fit into his later argument that one important value of science is that it teaches us to live with uncertainty?
  2. How does Feynman use the metaphor of playing music to explain why perhaps more people are not “inspired by our present picture of the universe”?
  3. What, according to Feynman, is the importance of our learning to live in a state of uncertainty? How does science help foster this world view?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Audio of “The Value of Science”:


Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Langston Hughes
Image licensed Public Domain.

A leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the United States, Langston Hughes developed an international reputation for his poetry. Hughes spent his childhood in the Midwest; he was born in Joplin, Missouri, but he also lived in Lincoln, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio. As a young man, he began a college education at Columbia University, but withdrew to travel as a merchant seaman. He eventually completed his education at Lincoln University.

Hughes is particularly known for his perceptive portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote prolifically and in a variety of genres–poems, plays, short stories, and novels. A significant feature of his work is the influence of jazz on his poetry, particularly in Montage of a Dream Deferred (Holt, 1951). Hughes also mentored other young poets and writers like Ralph Ellison. In 1926, he articulated the purpose of young black writers and poets in “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”: “The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful . . . If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”

Donald B. Gibson noted in the introduction to Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice Hall, 1973) that Hughes “differed from most of his predecessors among black poets … in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people.” Hughes considered himself to be, indeed, a “people’s poet” who elevated the black aesthetic while confronting racism and stereotypes in his work.

Salvation“, chapter three from The Big Sea

Questions to Consider

  1. What is an example of irony in this essay?
  2. What is Hughes belief about what it means to be saved? Where does this belief come from?
  3. Why does Hughes get up to be saved?
  4. Why is Hughes crying at the end of the essay?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Some additional sources that you might find helpful:

The Salvation of Langston Hughes: A Conversation with Wallace Best

A dramatized version:

Steve Mockensturm

Image of Steve Mockensturm

Steve Mockensturm was born in Ohio and currently lives in Toledo. An artist, Mockensturm is on the board of Madhouse Creative, where he is in charge of design and development. In addition to writing, Mockensturm works with design, website development, and other media.  According to his biography on Open Salon, he plays guitar, draws pictures, works with metal, and gardens.

Rough Draft Diaries with Steven Mockensturm.

Mockensturm published “The Grapes of Mrs. Rath” in 2009 on Open Salon. The essay can now be found on Medium.

Questions to Consider

  1. What is the significance of the title?
  2. How does the author use allusion?
  3. How does the author use imagery?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

George Orwell

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George Orwell Public Domain

Eric Arthur Blair, born in India on June 25, 1903, and known by his pen name, George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism.

Commonly ranked as one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century, and as one of the most important chroniclers of English culture of his generation, Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction, and polemical journalism. He is best known for the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945). His book Homage to Catalonia (1938), an account of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, is widely acclaimed, as are his numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture. In 2008, The Times ranked him second on a list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.

Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian — descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices — has entered the language together with several of his neologisms, including “cold war,” “Big Brother,” “thought police,” “Room 101,” “doublethink,” and “thought crime.”

George Orwell died on January 21, 1950, in London, England.

George Orwell, author of the novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty- Four, among many other works, brings us back to the personal essay in his 1946 “Why I Write.” This essay not only offers a useful example of effective creative nonfiction, but it also gives us a glimpse into the subject of writing itself, raising questions about our own reasons for writing.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What does Orwell mean when he says that in his early resistance to becoming a writer, he was “outraging my true nature”? Can you identify with this sentiment in light of your own “natural” tendencies?
  2. What kind of “literary activities” did Orwell engage in even when he was not purposefully developing his aspirations of becoming a writer? How then does his attitude contrast his perspective on that period as he looks back now, writing this essay?
  3. Consider the “four great motives for writing” listed by Orwell. According to him, how might these motives work against one another?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

George Orwell Why I Write:

Anna Quindlen

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Anna Quindlen CC BY 2.0

Anna Marie Quindlen (born July 8, 1952) is an American author, journalist, and opinion columnist.

Her New York Times column, Public and Private, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992. She began her journalism career in 1974 as a reporter for the New York Post. Between 1977 and 1994 she held several posts at The New York Times. Her semi-autobiographical novel One True Thing (1994) served as the basis for the 1998 film starring Meryl Streep and Renée Zellweger.

Anna Quindlen was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1970 from South Brunswick High School in South Brunswick, New Jersey and then attended Barnard College, from which she graduated in 1974. She is married to New Jersey attorney Gerald Krovatin, whom she met while in college.

Anna Quindlen left journalism in 1995 to become a full-time novelist.

In 1999, she joined Newsweek, writing a bi-weekly column until she announced her semi-retirement in the May 18, 2009, issue of the magazine. Quindlen is known as a critic of what she perceives to be the fast-paced and increasingly materialistic nature of modern American life. Much of her personal writing centers on her mother, who died from ovarian cancer, when Quindlen was 19 years old.

She has written nine novels, several of which have been adapted into motion pictures. One True Thing was made into a feature film in 1998.  Black and Blue and Blessings were made into television movies in 1999 and 2003, respectively.


“Mothers” was first published as a column entitled “On Being Mom” in Newsweek.

Questions to Consider

  1. What do you think Quindlen is trying to say about motherhood?
  2. What details stand out in the essay? What significance do they have?
  3. What can readers who are not parents learn from reading this essay?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Richard Rodriguez

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Richard Rodriguez licensed GNU1.2.

Richard Rodriguez (born July 31, 1944) is an American writer who became famous as the author of Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982), a narrative about his intellectual development.

He was born on July 31, 1944, into a Mexican immigrant family in San Francisco, California. Rodriguez spoke Spanish until he went to a Catholic school at 6. As a youth in Sacramento, California, he delivered newspapers and worked as a gardener. He graduated from Sacramento’s Christian Brothers High School.

Rodriguez received a B.A. from Stanford University, an M.A. from Columbia University, was a Ph.D. candidate in English Renaissance literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and attended the Warburg Institute in London on a Fulbright fellowship. A noted prose stylist, Rodriguez has worked as a teacher, international journalist, and educational consultant, and he has appeared regularly on the Public Broadcasting Service show, NewsHour. Rodriguez’s visual essays, Richard Rodriguez Essays, on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” earned Rodriguez a Peabody Award in 1997. Rodriguez’s books include Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez (1982), a collection of autobiographical essays; Mexico’s Children (1990); Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father (1992), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002); and Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (2013). Rodriguez’s works have also been published in Harper’s Magazine, Mother Jones, and Time.

While his book received widespread critical acclaim and won several literary awards, it also stirred resentment because of Rodriguez’s strong stands against bilingual education and affirmative action.

Interview in the Paris Review with Richard Rodriguez on faith.

Interview with Richard Rodriguez on heritage and identity:

Another interview with Rodriguez:

Complexion” (AKA “Workers”) Chapter 4 from Hunger of Memory
Here is an audio of the essay:

Questions to Consider

  1. How does Rodriguez feel about manual labor? How do you know?
  2. What are some of the descriptive details that help to move the narrative forward, illustrate the characters, and illuminate the message?
  3. What do you think the main message of this chapter is?


You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Philip Simmons

Phil Simmons (1957-7/27/2002) was an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois, a contributing editor to UU World, and a speaker and worship leader at his church and in his community. At the age of 35, Simmons was diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease and given 5 years to live. Defying the odds, Simmons lived 10 years beyond his diagnosis.

Simmons earned his BA in English and Physics from Amherst College, his MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University, and his PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He taught literature and creative writing for nine years.

He wrote and published fiction and literary criticism. His book Deep Surfaces was published in 1997. Learning to Fall, a series of essays based on his talks at Norther Shore Unitarian Church, was self-published and then picked up by Bantam in 2002. His only fictional novel, Rattlesnake Ridge, was published posthumously in 2004.

Learning to Fall” is an excerpt from the author’s book Learning to Fall

Questions to Consider

1. Explain the distinction between “problem” and “mystery.”

2. Can you give examples of “problems” on the one hand, and “mysteries” on the other?

3. What does Simmons say our attitude toward mystery should be? Is there anything in Simmons’ story that makes his opinion more credible?

(Additional questions in the Reading Guide.)

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Audio version of “Learning to Fall”:

Trailer for documentary The Man Who Learned to Fall:

Read more essays by Simmons.

Amy Tan

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Amy Tan in the Public Domain

Amy Ruth Tan (born February 19, 1952) is an American author known for the novel The Joy Luck Club, which was adapted into the film The Joy Luck Club in 1993 by director Wayne Wang.

Tan was born in Oakland, California. She is the second of three children born to Chinese immigrants John and Daisy Tan. Tan attended Marian A. Peterson High School in Sunnyvale for one year. When she was fifteen years old, her father and older brother Peter both died of brain tumors within six months of each other.

Tan’s mother subsequently moved Amy and her younger brother, John Jr., to Switzerland, where Amy finished high school. During this period, Amy learned about her mother’s previous marriage to another man in China, of their four children (a son who died as a toddler and three daughters), and how her mother left these children behind in Shanghai. This incident was the basis for Tan’s first novel The Joy Luck Club. In 1987, Amy traveled with Daisy to China. There, Amy met her three half-sisters.

Tan had a difficult relationship with her mother, who wanted Tan to be independent and stressed that Tan needed to make sure she was self-sufficient. Tan’s mother died in 1999.

Tan later received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and linguistics from San Jose State University. She took doctoral courses in linguistics at University of California, Santa Cruz, and University of California, Berkeley.

Tan has written several other novels, including The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement. Tan’s latest book is a memoir entitled Where The Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir (2017). In addition to these, Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series that aired on PBS.

Learn more about Amy Tan on her website.

Watch this interview with Amy Tan:

Mother Tongue” (online location)

Correct citation: Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Threepenny Review, no. 43, 1990, pp. 7–8. Sharett Brown, http://www.u.arizona.edu/~sab4949/mother.html. Accessed 2 May 2021.

While the Yavapai College Library does not have access to this essay, YC students can read the essay as originally published by clicking on the link and then choosing the Red “Read Online” button (you may have to login to YC first):

“Mother Tongue”

Questions to Consider

  1. What do you think the author is trying to say?
  2. What is the essay’s theme?
  3. You read Amy Tan’s short story, “Two Kinds,” in our last module. What insight might a reader gain from reading the two together?


You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth in the Public Domain

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in the town of Swartekill, in Ulster County, New York. Historians think that she was born around 1779. She was born into slavery with as many as 12 other siblings. Her father, James, was captured and sold as a slave in modern day Ghana. Her mother, on the other hand, was already a slave in Guinea Africa. They were both sold to Colonel Hardenberg and taken to his plantation in New York. As a slave, Sojourner truth grew up speaking Dutch. She was separated from her parents at the age of 9 and sold to a man named Johny Neely after the death of her previous owner.

In 1817 Sojourner Truth’s new owner made her marry a slave by the name of Thomas, which resulted in the birth of a son and two daughters. On July 4th, 1827, New York was in the process of emancipating all slaves.  Before Truth got her freedom, she escaped with her infant daughter, Sophia. After her escape, she learned that her son, Peter, was sold to a plantation owner in Alabama. She went to court and fought for her son, winning his freedom.

On June 1, 1843, Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery. In 1844, Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1850, Truth spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She soon began touring regularly with abolitionist George Thompson. In 1851 Truth spoke her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. One of her major projects was to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves. She argued that ownership of private property, and particularly land, would give African Americans self-sufficiency and free them from a kind of indentured servitude to wealthy landowners.

Truth kept fighting for women’s rights and women’s suffrage until her death in her home in Battle Creek Michigan on November 26, 1883. She is buried alongside her family at the Battle Creek Cemetery. Truth is remembered as one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement and an early advocate of women’s rights.

Sojourner Truth’s speech entitled “Ain’t I a Woman?” is widely acclaimed for its voice of confidence and unyielding belief in all-inclusive Woman’s Rights.

What few people know of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” Speech given in 1851 is that it actually had two very different transcriptions, with the more popular one being formally incorrect. Sojourner Truth was Northerner, with a northern accent, yet the most popularized transcription was by Frances Dana Barker Gage, a white abolitionist at the time. Gage controversially transcribed Truth by using the voice of a southern black slave, even though she wasn’t. The original transcription, by Truth’s close friend Reverend Marius Robinson, was much more true to the original speech. Robinson released this speech in a popular Anti-Slavery Newspaper, marking its first publishing to the masses.

Here’s a video about Sojourner Truth’s life:

Here’s a video reenactment of an interview with Truth:


June 21, 1851

May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter.

I am a woman’s rights [sic].

I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man.

I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?

I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if  I can get it.

I am as strong as any man that is now.

As for intellect, all I can say is,  if women have a pint and man a quart – why can’t she have her little pint full?

You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we cant take more than our pint’ll hold.

The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do.

Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better.

You will have your own rights, and they wont be so much trouble.

I cant read, but I can hear.

I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin.

Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.

The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right.

When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother.

And Jesus wept – and Lazarus came forth.

And how came Jesus into the world?

Through God who created him and woman who bore him.

Man, where is your part?

But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them.

But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between-a hawk and a buzzard.


April 23, 1863

Well, chillen, whar dar’s so much racket dar must be som’ting out o’kilter.

I tink dat, ’twixt de niggers of de South and de women at de Norf, all a-talking ’bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.

But what’s all this here talking ’bout?

Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have de best place eberywhar.

Nobody eber helps me into carriages or ober mud-puddles, or gives me any best place.

-And ar’n’t I a woman?

Look at me.

Look at my arm.

I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me.

-and ar’n’t I a woman?

I could work as much as (c) eat as much as a man, (when (d) I could get it,) and bear de lash as well

-and ar’n’t I a woman?

I have borne thirteen chillen, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard

-and ar’n’t I a woman?

Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head.

What dis dey call it?

Dat’s it, honey.

What’s dat got to do with women’s rights or niggers’ rights?

If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have a little half-measure full?

Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as man ’cause Christ wa’n’t a woman.

Whar did your Christ come from?

Whar did your Christ come from?

From God and a woman.

Man had nothing to do with him.

If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all her one lone, all dese togeder ought to be able to turn it back and git it right side up again, and now dey is asking to, de men better let ’em.

Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me, and now ole Sojourner ha’n’t got nothin’ more to say.

Questions to Consider

  1. How do you think the mention of Mary and Jesus is significant to Truth’s argument?
  2. Does Truth’s comparison of herself to a man strengthen or weaken her argument? Why or why not?
  3. What does Truth compare “intellect” to and how is it relevant to her argument?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Alice Walker reads “Ain’t I a Woman?”:


E. B. White

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E. B. White licensed CC BY SA.

Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985) was an American writer. He was the author of several highly popular books for children, including Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte’s Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970). n addition, he was a writer and contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine, and also a co-author of the English language style guide The Elements of Style.

White graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor of arts degree in 1921. While at Cornell, he worked as editor of The Cornell Daily Sun. After graduation, White worked for the United Press and the American Legion News Service in 1921 and 1922. From September 1922 to June 1923, he was a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. When The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White submitted manuscripts to it. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to editor-in-chief and founder Harold Ross that White be hired as a staff writer.

E. B. White published his first article in The New Yorker in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927 and continued to contribute for almost six decades. Best recognized for his essays and unsigned “Notes and Comment” pieces, he gradually became the magazine’s most important contributor. From the beginning to the end of his career at The New Yorker, he frequently provided what the magazine calls “Newsbreaks” (short, witty comments on oddly worded printed items from many sources) under various categories such as “Block That Metaphor.” He also was a columnist for Harper’s Magazine from 1938 to 1943.

In 1949, White published Here Is New York, a short book based on an article he had been commissioned to write for Holiday. In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English was first written and published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., one of White’s professors at Cornell. White’s reworking of the book was extremely well received, and later editions followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999.

In 1978, White won a special Pulitzer Prize and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and honorary memberships in a variety of literary societies throughout the United States. The 1973 Oscar-nominated Canadian animated short The Family That Dwelt Apart is narrated by White and is based on his short story of the same name.


“Once More to the Lake” was published in Harper’s Magazine in 1941.

Questions to Consider

  1. How would you describe the mood of this essay? How does the author create the mood?
  2. How does White use imagery to illustrate the changes to the lake?
  3. What is the central idea of the essay?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Audio Version of “Once More to the Lake”:

Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf in the Public Domain

Virginia Woolf was born into late-Victorian London on January 25, 1882. Her mother was Julia Stephen (1846-1895), famous in the artistic and literary world for her beauty and in high demand for her skills as an informal nurse. Woolf’s father was Sir Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), a well-known literary critic and founder of the Dictionary of National Biography, who struggled with a sense of inadequacy in spite of his reputation. The family lived at 22 Hyde Park Gate in London and rented a summer house at St. Ives in Cornwall. The children grew up with governesses, and while the boys went on to school and university, the girls received much less formal education, a particularly sore point with Woolf, and a spur for her feminism. However, she read hugely from her father’s library, and developed a formidable and individual intellect. Her parents’ literary circle also helped to develop the foundations of her writing and thought.

Woolf wrote of being sexually molested by both her Duckworth half-brothers, which powerfully affected her. Her sister, Laura, was institutionalized in the 1890s. Her mother suddenly died of influenza when Virginia was 13, “the worst disaster that could happen,” as she put it, which led to her first mental breakdown. In his own grief, her father leaned heavily on the girls, causing immense resentment. Virginia’s mental health remained very fragile, but she carried on studying, reading, and writing, while helping her sister with their father’s demands.

When Leslie died of cancer in 1904, Virginia was saddened but liberated. With his death, she saw the Victorian past falling away. She suffered another nervous breakdown, which led to a suicide attempt, that year, but improved when she and her siblings left Hyde Park Gate and moved to unfashionable Bloomsbury to begin their own lives. Virginia enjoyed teaching adult courses at Morley College and working on her writing. Virginia worked on her first novel, The Voyage Out, which describes a young woman’s journey into South America and illness. In 1912, she agreed to marry Leonard Woolf (1880-1969), a Jewish writer who worked for the Colonial Civil Service, in spite of her uncertainty about their compatibility. Leonard provided support when Virginia made another suicide attempt in 1913, and had another breakdown in 1915, when The Voyage Out was finally published. With him, she established the Hogarth Press, named after their London house, in 1917, which published works by both Leonard and Virginia, as well as by other contemporary writers.

Over the next decades, Woolf produced many acclaimed modernist works, in spite of further troubles with mental health, often drawing on her own past and continually pushing the boundaries of form and perspective. Night and Day (1919) describes young people trying to find their own way in the new 20th century; Jacob’s Room (1922) memorializes her family, as does The Waves (1931), with its fluid depiction of childhood’s effects, and also To the Lighthouse (1927), a resurrection of her parents and early life. Her essays collected in The Common Reader volumes (1925 and 1932) cover a broad variety of subjects, and Mrs. Dalloway (1925), set on a single day, depicts the way life attempts to carry on in spite of the shock of the World War I. An inventive biographer, Woolf wrote Orlando: A Biography (1928), a love letter to Vita Sackville-West, to equality, and to androgyny; Flush, A Biography (1933), a playful tour de force about the Brownings’ dog; and Roger Fry: A Biography (1940), which attempts truly to capture the life of her friend. A Room of One’s Own (1929), like the later Three Guineas (1938), is a seminal feminist text. The Years (1934) cost her a great effort, again returning to Victorian childhood’s effects on adulthood, and led to another depression. Fearing a German invasion of England, as well as another breakdown, she drowned herself in the River Ouse near her home in Sussex in 1941. She had completed her final novel, Between the Acts, the story of a historical pageant at a country house menaced by war. The end of the book has the central couple sitting alone in a kind of prehistoric dark, but finishes with the line, “They spoke.” Even in darkness and apparent meaninglessness, Woolf’s characters speak, and she is drawn to record them.

Biography of Virginia Woolf, Part 1:

Biography Part 2:

Biography Part 3:

The Library of Congress compilation of information about American Women Writers.

Questions to Consider (Shakespeare’s Sister)

  1. Why do you think Woolf blends fact and fiction in this essay?
  2. How does using Shakespeare and his imaginary sister impact Woolf’s argument?
  3. A Room of One’s Own was published in 1929. What has changed for women in the last 100 years? Do you think Woolf would be pleased, or would she see more work to do?

You may use the form here to enter and download your Questions to Consider responses:

Audio Version:



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