The essay is the most pluckily pedestrian and blithely transgressive of literary genres, the one that is most at large and in need, picking through the accumulated disjecta of daily life and personal and social history to take what it needs and remake it as it sees fit. It is, at its lively best, quite indifferent to the claims of style, fashion, theory, and respectability, provoking and inspiring through the pleasure of surprise. In 2016, Philip Lopate, who has been writing essays and thinking about the essay for decades now, turned his attention to one of the essay's offshoots, the blog, a form by that time already thick, as he knew, with virtual dust. Lopate committed to writing a weekly blog about, really, whatever over the course of a year, a quicker pace of delivery than he'd ever undertaken and one that carried the risk of all too regularly falling short. What emerged was A Year and a Day, a collection of forty-seven essays best characterized as a single essay a year in the making, a virtuosic (if never showy) demonstration of the essay's range and reach, meandering, looping back, pressing reset, forging on. Lopate's topics along the way include family, James Baldwin, a trip to China, Agnes Martin, Abbas Kiarostami, the resistible rise of Donald Trump, death, desire, and the tribulations, small and large, of daily life. What results is at once a self-portrait, a picture of the times, and a splendid new elaboration of what the essay can be.
Phillip Lopate is the author of the essay collections Against Joie de Vivre, Bachelorhood, Being with Children, Portrait of My Body, and Totally, Tenderly, Tragically; and of the novels The Rug Merchant and Confessions of a Summer. He has edited the anthologies The Art of the Personal Essay, The Glorious American Essay, The Golden Age of the American Essay, and The Contemporary American Essay. His most recent books are Portrait Inside My Head, To Show and to Tell, and A Mother’s Tale.
Lopate will be in conversation with Sudip Bose. Bose is the editor of The American Scholar, the quarterly magazine published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society—only the eighth person to hold that position since the magazine’s founding in 1932. Before joining the staff of the Scholar, he served as its fiction editor. He has previously worked at such magazines as Preservation, Biblical Archaeology Review, The Wilson Quarterly, and Civilization.