Sara Bivigou’s "The Bad Blood,” about living with sickle cell anemia, is compelling in that it humanizes a disease that disproportionately affects black people while heartbreakingly describing the ways people with chronic illness "cheat" themselves into behaving as though they're well.
Saeed Jones’ “How Men Fight For Their Lives,” written in 2012, before he was a National Book Critics Circle finalist, PEN Award winner, Buzzfeed’s literary editor, or publishing a memoir, was first published at The Rumpus as a standalone personal essay.
Aside from its remarkable writing, the piece seems eerily prescient now for its lines on seeking out harrowing experiences in order to write about them: “You have to understand I had been passive aggressively trying to get myself killed for months," he wrote then.
"I was also on a constant vigil for “writing material” which, I now know, is basically the same thing as passive aggressively trying to get myself killed.”There are few exceptions to the rule that black confessional writing doesn’t get published.
Publication of black memoirs and autobiography is usually contingent on prevailing over systemic bias, discrimination, or oppression.
In early summer, Think Progress published a short wish list titled, “If These 5 Black Women Wrote Memoirs, We’d Pick Them Up In A Second.” With the exception of Roxane Gay, no one on the list is known as a personal essayist.
Even now that I’m regularly paid to write—and now that what I write isn’t so personal—I still blog. Recently, personal essays have moved back into the spotlight: Earlier this week, Slate’s Laura Bennett wrote about the rise of personal essay writing for online publications, aptly titled, “The First-Person Industrial Complex.” Bennett identifies a trend nearly as old as the internet itself that has become newly predatory; she posits that writing about one’s most troubling experiences can be exploitative.
There’s not much money in writing about oneself, and many personal stories are packaged misleadingly for the sake of potentially going viral.
No one’s paying us book advances to behave badly or to bare our souls—unless bad behavior involves trysts with married sports and music stars, as in the case of Karrine Stephens’s By the same token, some of the most compelling personal writing—harrowing or otherwise—the Internet has produced is the work of writers of color.
La Toya Jordan’s “After Striking a Fixed Object,” about life after a car accident that left her disfigured, is incredible for its ability to recreate a jarring, life-altering event and the way it chronicles the long process of coping that followed.