Carrier Bag, Gathering Basket, Magpie Nest: Writing The Personal Essay

Essay comes from the Old French, meaning to attempt, to try, to weigh. The personal essay concentrates on a writer’s own experience and perspective, exploring elements of this life in an intimate way. In her “Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction”, Ursula LeGuin wrote that we walk through our lives, collecting things that might come in handy — pieces of twine, a handful of roots and berries, a useful bit of bark, dialogue, bones for soup, poetry, a little fragment of song. I love this theory and believe that it can be extended to include the personal essay; most of us have the elements for a good essay already in our minds or memory, our hearts. Carrier bag, gathering basket, magpie nest: the essay is an opportunity to capture the activity of human thought in real time. Alone, an essay can be revelatory. In association with others, linked by chronology or theme, essays can be building blocks for memoirs. Participants should bring a photograph, a recipe, a significant small object. Using prompts and guiding exercises, I’ll help you to use those elements to write out of your own life and experience.