Modern Love: A Challenge

One of our all-time favorite columns to read is Modern Love from the New York Times. It is “a series of weekly reader-submitted essays that explore the joys and tribulations of love.” These nonfiction gems explore every facet of love imaginable, from romantic love to watching a parent grow old to giving up a baby for adoption to welcoming refugee families to a community. This collection of work gives love a shape that might surprise you.

Our challenge for you as we begin a new year and look toward Valentine’s Day is this: read a few of these essays (here are their top 10) and write your own. Who have you loved? Who have you lost? Tell us your stories!

So, here’s the deal:

  • Write an essay about love (be sure it is nonfiction) in under 1500 words.
  • Send your essay to
  • We’ll post it on the site!
  • Feel free to send as many as you like.

Writing an Essay

Tell It SlantIn 2009, I received my master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction from West Virginia University. Through three years of workshops, I learned a lot about structure, audience, and craft. Despite these lessons, for me, one of the hardest parts of writing an essay has always been figuring out a topic. Or, to be honest, not giving up on the topic in the first three paragraphs.

A turning point in my schooling was a visit from the illustrious Brenda Miller, coauthor of Tell It Slant and author of Season of the Body, among other masterpieces. Reading these two very different books and working with her in a small group changed my approach to essay writing. Continue reading “Writing an Essay”

Poets & Writers Writing Prompts

55AF51EA3BPoets & Writers is a great magazine for getting inspiration, reading about fellow writers, learning about MFA programs, and finding journals to submit work to. One of my favorite parts of the magazine, however, is the section titled “The Time is Now.” This is where you will find writing prompts for nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. Here are some recent prompts. Have a go, and let us know where it takes you! Continue reading “Poets & Writers Writing Prompts”

Learning Life Lessons Through L’Engle’s Structure

“Nothing important is completely explicable.”

– Madeleine L’Engle

Years ago, I took a nonfiction workshop where I read Madeleine L’Engle’s book Two-Part Invention: The Story of Marriage. Until that point, I had only read her fiction and a little of her poetry. Much of her nonfiction is about her religious conversion in adulthood, but Two-Part Invention is about love and hate and growing old. The title refers both to Bach’s “Two-Part Inventions” and L’Engle’s relationship with her husband, Hugh. A two-part invention is an exercise piece for piano consisting of two imitative lines, one for each hand, that toss musical motives back and forth, creating conversation. Because there are no chords, the harmony of the piece comes when the lines intersect. Such music surely frustrates the young pianist, but helps her grow in her playing.

The first few chapters of the book relate the separate childhoods of Madeleine and Hugh and how they met. Then Hugh proposes. Instead of jumping chronologically into marriage, L’Engle wrote an Interlude, using the house she and Hugh lived in, Crosswicks—meaning “where the two roads meet”—as a symbol of her marriage. Crosswicks is an old farmhouse with drafty windows and creaking stairs; it is home in every sense of the word, but constantly needs renovation. Continue reading “Learning Life Lessons Through L’Engle’s Structure”