On Friday, October 13, 2023, author, Columbia alum, and retired School of the Arts professor, Phillip Lopate, will discuss his new book of collected essays in Columbia University’s Mathematics Hall, Room 207 at 4 PM, in conversation with Martha McPhee, author of Omega Farm: A Memoir. Lopate’s latest work, A Year and a Day: An Experiment in Essays, comes out in October from The New York Review of Books. In 2022, Lopate was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters for his work. This talk is sponsored by The Columbia Review and The Center for Nonfiction. The event is free and open to the public.
A compelling celebration of the power of the essay, this collection of 47 writings offers a glimpse into the mind of a modern-day Montaigne as he reflects on the miscellany of daily life—movies and art, friends and family—over the course of a single year.The essay is the most pluckily pedestrian and blithely transgressive of literary genres, the one that is most at large and in need, picking through the accumulated disjecta of daily life and personal and social history to take what it needs and remake it as it sees fit. It is, at its lively best, quite indifferent to the claims of style, fashion, theory, and respectability, provoking and inspiring through the pleasure of surprise. In 2016, Philip Lopate, who has been writing essays and thinking about the essay for decades now, turned his attention to one of the essay’s offshoots, the blog, a form by that time already thick, as he knew, with virtual dust. Lopate committed to writing a weekly blog about, really, whatever over the course of a year, a quicker pace of delivery than he’d ever undertaken and one that carried the risk of all too regularly falling short. What emerged was A Year and a Day, a collection of forty-seven essays best characterized as a single essay a year in the making, a virtuosic (if never showy) demonstration of the essay’s range and reach, meandering, looping back, pressing reset, forging on. Lopate’s topics along the way include family, James Baldwin, a trip to China, Agnes Martin, Abbas Kiarostami, the resistible rise of Donald Trump, death, desire, and the tribulations, small and large, of daily life. What results is at once a self-portrait, a picture of the times, and a splendid new elaboration of what the essay can be.