Stalking the Essay Conference

Stalking the Essay 2
Stalking the Essay 2
A Two-Day Conference
March 28 - 29, 2015
The Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY
(Amsterdam Avenue and 117th Street)

The graduate Writing Program at Columbia University School of the Arts is pleased to announce the second Stalking the Essay Conference, to be held Saturday, March 28 and Sunday March 29 from 10 am to 5 pm. The conference, organized by the Director of Nonfiction, Phillip Lopate, is free and open to the public. With this symposium, the Writing Program aims to encircle the practices, theories and possibilities of the essay form by bringing together those who love it.

The essay has a long and glorious history as a literary form, and is the intellectual bellwether of any modern society. The genre is at a particularly interesting transitional moment, what with the emergence of the lyrical essay and other hybrid forms, the debate about the line between nonfiction and fiction, and the resurgence of the essay film, the digital essay and the radio essay. While considerable experimentation is going on at the moment, it should be noted that the essay has always been a daringly open, experimental form—from the French word “essai,” meaning “attempt.” Unlike fiction and poetry, which have spawned systematized approaches to narratology and poetics, the essay continues to be an elusive eel in the literary waters, neglected by scholars. As one of the genre’s foremost experts, Carl H. Klaus, has written, “a methodology for understanding the essay is long overdue.” The conference will attempt to contribute toward developing this methodology, as well as celebrating the varieties of this ubiquitous form.      

This is the second Stalking the Essay to be held. The first was a one-day conference in 2013 and strictly a literary affair.  Stalking the Essay 2 will be double the length and investigate the essay across media: literature, film, radio, and graphics. It is intended to be the second of an annual event, as part of a larger effort to establish Columbia University as a magnet for studying the essay’s history and current practice, and nurturing and propagating its future. What makes this location so apt is Columbia's especially rich essayistic tradition, which includes Lionel Trilling, Jacques Barzun, John Dewey, Mark van Doren, F. W. Dupee, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Randolph Bourne, Zora Neale Hurston, Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Daniel Bell, Susan Sontag, Meyer Schapiro, Eric Bentley and Edward Said.

The goal of the conference is to help build a legacy for the essay as an enduring, various, mutating, endearing, essential creative expression. For this must be said in its favor: the Essay is the classic, reliable tool for human consciousness to track itself, and at the same time to overcome isolation—making it possible for writers to establish with readers a bond of friendship. It is a response to the present historical moment, and a fertile meeting-ground for truth and imagination, the personal and the impersonal.
Phillip Lopate and panelists at Stalking the Essay (2013). Photo / Michael Gibney


Phillip Lopate
Director of Nonfiction, Writing Program, School of the Arts


School of the Arts Writing Program
School of the Arts MA in Film and Media Studies
School of the Arts Visual Arts Program
The Heyman Center for the Humanities
The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies
The Tomorrow Foundation


Saturday, March 28
The Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York

10 AM:  Welcome and Overview: Phillip Lopate

10:15 AM -12 PM:  The New Essay:  Leslie Jamison (The Empathy Exams, current Writing Program faculty member), Lia Purpura (Rough Likeness), Meghan Daum (Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, current Writing Program faculty member), moderated by Amy Benson (The Sparkling-Eyed Boy)

12-1 PM: Lunch

1-2:45 PM:  Book Length Essays:  Wayne Koestenbaum (The Queen’s Throat, My 1980s & Other Essays, Distinguished Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center), Geoff Dyer (Out of Sheer Rage, Another Great Day at Sea), Laura Kipnis (Against Love, Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation), moderated by Margo Jefferson (On Michael Jackson, Writing Program professor)

3-5 PM: Readings and Talks by Novelists and Critics Who Are Also Essayists: Marilynne Robinson (Housekeeping, Lila, The Death of Adam, Iowa Writers Workshop professor), Jonathan Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude, The Disappointment Artist, Roy Edward Disney Professor in Creative Writing at Pomona College), Hilton Als (The Women, White Girls, current Writing Program faculty member), moderated by Richard Locke (Critical Children: The Use of Childhood in Ten Great Novels, Writing Program professor)

5-7 PM: Screenings of Essay Films, 511 Dodge Hall

Sunday March 29
The Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue, New York

10 AM: Welcome and Introduction to the day’s events (Phillip Lopate)

10:15 AM—12 PM: The Essay in Other Media: Roz Chast, cartoonist (Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?), Maira Kalman, writer and illustrator (And the Pursuit of Happiness), Jeff Porter, radio essayist (Understanding the Essay, associate professor of English, University of Iowa), moderated by Ross Posnock (Anna Garbedian Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University)

12-1 PM: Lunch

1-2:45 PM: The Essay Film, Historical and Critical Perspective: Richard Peña (Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia University), Michael Renov (The Subject of Documentary, professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California), Timothy Corrigan (The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker, professor of English and Cinema Studies, University of Pennsylvania), moderated by Nico Baumbach (Film Program professor)

3-5 PM:  The Essay Film, Practitioners’ Perspective: Ross McElwee (Sherman’s March, professor of filmmaking, Harvard University), Alan Berliner (First Cousin Once Removed), Su Friedrich (Sink or Swim, video production professor, Princeton University), Shelly Silver (Touch, Visual Arts Program professor), moderated by Phillip Lopate (Portrait Inside My Head, Writing Program professor).  

5-9 PM: Screenings of Essay Films  511 Dodge Hall




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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.