Pursuing the ‘Craft of the Personal Essay’

Personal essay writing has always been my saving grace. When the spoken word fails, when I have the urge to get out my feelings, when I want to preserve a memory, I write.

In recent years, I’ve written a lot of personal essays that touch upon universal themes — mother-daughter relationships, loss and healing. I write about these things because I can relate to them, but also because I want others to read them and know that they’re not alone. So many of our life experiences are connected in some way or another, so I try my best to illuminate and make sense of them through writing.

Now I’m hoping to explore these experiences more in a Poynter/News University online group seminar called “The Craft of the Personal Essay.”

I’m in my second week of the four-week course and am learning a lot about different types of essays and about how to shape my ideas. My personal essay idea for the course involves nourishment. Specifically, I want to write about being nurtured (or not) — by my mother and by food. I hope to explore the ways that food has connected me to my Mom, the ways it pulled me apart from her and the ways it has fueled my memories of her.

I haven’t really written publicly about how food relates to my mom, but there are so many connections between the two that I feel the need to explore them more. I hope to publish my final product on this blog and, if it’s good enough, somewhere else. I hope you’ll offer your feedback when I post it.

Feel free to share your ideas for personal essays in the comments section of this post. We can work together to sort through them!

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Poynter.org. Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at mjtenore@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Pursuing the ‘Craft of the Personal Essay’

  1. So many things come to mind when I think of my mother and food at the same time. This should be an interesting work. I’ll be looking forward to reading the results.

  2. My mother is a type 2 diabetic which means she earned it. (I apologize if I sound bitter . . . It’s just hard to watch, you know?) Anyway, I have memories of her serving us cookies for breakfast. It had more to do with her being rushed for work than anything else. Yet she refused to buy us sweetened cereal because it was too high in sugar. She knew the rules, just couldn’t live by them.

    Your topic also makes me think of myself when I was breastfeeding. I don’t know if you’re headed in that direction with your writing, but there could be a big connection there. When a child is born, he goes from being part of his mother (literally) to being a separate person. For the first few weeks, he doesn’t realize this and is terrified when away from his mother. Through nursing, the mother has the ability to comfort the child and come close to replicating the union that they shared before.

    1. I’ve thought about the breastfeeding angle, but wasn’t planning to write about it. I feel as though it would be more powerful to write about if I were a mom. Someday!

      And it’s interesting that you bring up cookies as they relate to your mom. I was actually planning to write about cookies, oddly enough!

      My mom always used to surprise me with a snack when I came home from school. More often than not, the snack involved cookies. My favorite was when Mom would buy me a gingerbread man from Market Basket, the grocery store we always shopped at. I’d savor the soft, gooey treat.

      After Mom died, I always came home to an empty house. The couch Mom used to lie on was bare, and the kitchen table had no plate. No cookies. No Market Basket gingerbread men.

      I longed for some sense of nourishment but it wasn’t there. I think I’m still trying to find it.

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