Richard Tillinghast, Personal Essay and Travel Writing

Richard Tillinghast is the author of sixteen books of poetry, translation, and creative nonfiction including memoir, travel, and literary criticism. His most recent poetry book is Wayfaring Stranger, Word Palace Press, 2012. In 2008 Richard published Finding Ireland: A Poet’s Explorations of Irish Literature and Culture, winner of ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year prize for travel essays. The Wall Street Journal wrote of this book that “Tillinghast is a wonderful writer with great depths of knowledge and powers of analysis. . .” His most recent nonfiction book is An Armchair Traveller’s History of Istanbul, Haus Publishing, London, 2012, which was nominated for the Ondaatje Prize given annually by the Royal Society of Literature for a book evoking the sense of place, and listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the ten best travel books of the year. He has been awarded the Amy Lowell Travelling Fellowship from Harvard, grants from the NEA and the NEH, the British Council, and the Irish Arts Council, and was a 2010 Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. He retired from the creative writing faculty at the University of Michigan in 2005 and currently teaches part-time in the low residency MFA program at Converse College. He divides his time between Tennessee and the Big Island of Hawaii.

Photo Credit: Joshua Tillinghast

Workshop: Personal Essay / Travel Writing

The personal essay is a literary form which puts the writer in touch with his reader in a very intimate, sometimes casual way. As Walt Whitman wrote, “I loaf and invite my soul.” We describe this form as creative nonfiction because though based on actual events, essayists include in their arsenals many of the techniques of both poetry and fiction. In the personal essay create images and use the five senses to bring the reader as close as possible to what we ourselves experience. We try to stay aware of the rhythm of our phrases and sentences. As in fiction we create characters and tell stories. As for style, readers of well-written essays experience what Elizabeth Hardwick called “the soloist’s personal signature flowing through the text.” The essayist is like a jazz musician standing up to tell his story through his horn—or in our case, through his or her fountain pen or laptop.

Richard Tillinghast on the Web