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Crafting the Lyric Essay

On-site seminar and workshop

Crafting the Lyric Essay

"The lyric essay stalks its subject like quarry but is never content to merely explain or confess. It elucidates through the dance of its own delving." - Deborah Tall

Join essayist Randon Billings Noble for an in-depth exploration of the lyric essay. What makes an essay “lyric”? What are the benefits of using imagery and intuition, rather than narrative and exposition, to explore a line of thought? In this workshop, we will discuss the possibilities and pleasures of the lyric essay. We will look at some of the myriad forms a lyric essay can take; read short examples of flash, list, braided, and hermit crab essays; and consider how form can intensify content. We’ll also do some writing. You will leave with a draft of a new essay as well as a list of outlets that publish lyric essays.

This workshop is suitable for both beginning writers and advanced practitioners.

In this one-day workshop, you will:

  • LEARN about a variety of lyric essay forms
  • READ and analyze examples of flash, collage, braided, and hermit crab essays
  • EXPERIMENT at sketching an essay in each form
  • WRITE an early draft in the form of your choice

Saturday, May 25, 2019
1 pm - 4:30 pm

Advance registration strongly recommended.
The workshop is limited to 16 students.

$79 if registered by 5/20/2019
$129 if registered after 5/20/2019


Schedule Overview:

Opening Exercise: An overview of the lyric essay

We’ll begin with a discussion of how writers such as Brenda Miller, Annie Dillard, and John D’Agata have variously defined the lyric essay. We will consider how the lyric essay draws from the conventions of poetry, often (but not always) relying on intuition and imagery more than narration and exposition.

Exercise 1 // Flash essays and prose poems

Exploring examples of a prose poem and several flash essays, we will discuss the benefits and limitations of writing short and sharp. Then you will try your hand at writing flash essay of your own.

Exercise 2 // Collage, list, and fragmented essays

We’ll discuss the delicate balance of revealing enough but not too much in these sections and fragments. We will look at examples of collage, list, and fragmented essays and discuss the extent to which we can expect or allow readers to  come to their own conclusions when reading. Then you will try your hand at writing a fragmented essay of your own.

Exercise 3 // Braided essays

How can writers choose three or more related strands to braid together to make meaning?  You will start sketching a braided essay of your own using multiple strands with at least one narrative strand and another involving some kind of research.

Exercise 4 // Hermit crab essays

We’ll explore how form can determine content—and vice versa. What kinds of essays best suit the hermit crab form? And what are some of those forms? After brainstorming a list of forms as a large group, you will make a list of more vulnerable writing topics and start a draft of a hermit crab essay.

Closing Exercises // Going deeper

You will choose one form to pursue further and start drafting a more complete essay. The instructor will answer questions and provide individual guidance. We will end our time with (voluntary) readings of our work and a general discussion of what we learned about lyric essays as well as what surprised us. You will leave with a draft of a lyric essay as well as a list of places to read and to publish.

Location // 5119 Coral Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

The lower level of our workshop and gallery space is wheelchair accessible. Free on-street parking is available.

Doors open at 12 pm, event begins at 1 pm. Snacks, coffee & tea will be provided.

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her full-length collection Be with Me Always was published by the University of Nebraska Press on 1 March 2019. A fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (fully funded by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation) and a resident at Wildacres, Hambidge, and the Vermont Studio Center, she was named a 2013 Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Creative Fellow to attend a residency at the Millay Colony for the Arts.  For the past two years her work has been supported by grants from The District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities. After graduating with high honors from the University of Michigan (where she won a Hopwood Award in 1994), she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from New York University in 2001. 

Questions? Please call us at 412-404-2975 or email our director of education, Sharla, at Yates[AT}creativenonfiction.org