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The essay considered from all angles

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The Edinburgh Companion to the Trial provides an overview of current thinking on the essay as a resource for writers and readers, teachers and students. The book joins an ever-growing list of critical volumes that present new insights into the burgeoning field of essay studies.

Nicole Wallack, senior lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature and director of the undergraduate writing program, along with her co-editors, Mario Aquilina and Bob Cowser, have assembled a comprehensive volume that includes contributions from essayists, critics literary, and writing teachers. The essay is explored from multiple perspectives – its theory, history, formal characteristics and political contexts.

Wallack discusses the book with Colombia Newsas well as why boundary books — literally and figuratively — keep her busy these days, and what she’s teaching this semester.

How was this book born?

It all started in the spring of 2019 in Malta, during a conference, The Essay at the Limits, which attracted researchers from all over the world. It was exciting to delve into new work on the theories, stories and pedagogies of trials. I published a book in 2017, Crafting Presence: The American Essay and the Future of Writing Studiesin which I had noted that scholars write essays to share our thinking with people outside our disciplines and to make our work accessible to audiences beyond the academy.

So it was wonderful to experience cross pollination among trial researchers with various areas of expertise. Later that year Dr Mario Aquilina, one of my co-editors, who had hosted the conference and teaches in the English department of the University of Malta, was commissioned by Edinburgh University Press to create the Edinburgh Trial Companion. I was delighted to join him and another colleague, Bob Cowser, professor of English at St. Lawrence University, as a member of the editorial team. Our project had just started as the pandemic began to disrupt everyone’s lives. In the two years it took us to prepare the final manuscript, the book kept us intellectually focused and connected with others – two gifts of the scholarly life of old.

This big book includes 27 in-depth chapters on the history, theory, teaching, and cultural relevance of the essay by literary and cultural critics, creative nonfiction writers, and writing studies scholars. We were also able to include eight original interviews with some of the genre’s foremost practitioners and editors: Robert Atwan, Brian Dillon, Kaitlyn Greenidge, Jamaica Kincaid, Claudia Rankine, David Shields, Rebecca Solnit and Leslie Jamissonwho teaches in Writing program to School of Arts.

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