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Reactions & Reviews

“In these engrossing essays, Klaus, the founding director of the University of Iowa's nonfiction writing program, reminds readers that the personal essay's authorial "I" is a "textual stand-in" for the author. Drawing from writers as varied as Woolf, Montaigne, Orwell, E. B. White, Joan Didion, Annie Dillard and James Baldwin, he conducts a thorough inquiry into the ways the essayist's persona is shaped not only by the interior but also by the exterior, and by individual experience and culture.”
N.Y. Times, October 22, 2010

“As stimulating a discussion of the personal essay as I have ever encountered. With the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime of practicing and teaching the form, Klaus thoughtfully probes and generously upends his own and everyone else's pieties. We are deeply in his debt.”
—Phillip Lopate

“Quite simply, Carl Klaus’s magnum opus: the book he has spent his entire writing life building toward: a persuasive and even moving summing up of everything he knows about the essay, especially the protean, inherently problematizing, stylized nature of the form. An extremely valuable correction to any misconception of ‘nonfiction as ‘truth.’”
—David Shields, author, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

“Nobody knows the history of the essay with his depth, discernment, and passion, and we are fortunate to now have this distillation of a distinguished career’s work . . . . A brilliant and brilliantly pithy book.”
—Tom Lutz, author, Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America

“This book is a cabinet of finely balanced wonders: treatise and revelation, study and confession, provocation and lyric—but most of all, it’s a love letter to the essay form. Carl Klaus approaches his subject, the complicated construction of a self on the page, with the curiosity, intellect, and innocence of an artist in love with and awed by his materials. As he reflects on essayists past and present as well as on his own prose, Klaus’s insights grow ever more intimate. His is a sensibility engaged in the deepest, lifelong work an essayist can perform: the creation, nurturing, and refining of that ever-elusive yet companionable made-up self.”
—Lia Purpura, author, On Looking