Is it memoir or essay? … the final word

Poets & Writers, has an online article of great value: An interview with Philip Lopate, back in 2008. I’m posting just the tiniest excerpt here, so you’ll be motivated to click the link now. This resonates with me because after asking me how to self-publish a book, the question most people ask me is about the difference between memoir and essay.

Here’s the answer from the esteemed Philip Lopate in an interview with writer Lanai Knight. Make tea, read it, print it, take a dizzying walk around the block, and read it again. It’s that good.

P&W: What is the difference between personal essay and memoir?

Lopate: The memoir requires other people. The personal essay can avail itself of other people, but it can also be a reflection on a subject where other people are not necessarily that important.

Read the full 2008 interview here.


Essays: A fresh look at a thriving market

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, the essay form holds appeal for most writers. Whether you’re a pro or just starting out, essay markets are plentiful and a satisfying sale.

In my recent reading, I’m spending quiet time with the Best American Essays Series from 2010and came across this helpful description of essay types. Maybe it will inspire you today to write an essay for publication:


  • The heuristic essay is an attempt to call attention to new information that has been overlooked or ignored or even suppressed, or that perhaps is simply deserving of a larger audience.
  • The polemic essay may be an attempt to persuiade or refute, or explode and debunk, or to mobilize.
  • The confessional, in which the writer seeks to engage the reader in either an apologia or a revelation, serves to disburden something.
  • Descriptive essays are  where the writer paints a scene in the hope of presenting it through his or her eyes.
  • The revisionist to the heuristic: an article that approaches familiar material or common assumptions in a fresh light.
  • Conversational, composed for pleasure alone or for its own sake, where the “point” is that there is no particular point.

— source Christopher Hitchens,  (recently deceased) in the Introduction the The Best American Essays 2010

Pick up a pen and create or rework an essay today, in any style that appeals to you. It is one of my favorite forms and I really started the year off well by having an essay published in Bylines 2012 Writer’s Calendar. Until you start, you never know where your writing might take you.

Helen Gallagher