River Teeth Revisted

Here at River Teeth, we love essays. We love reading essays, choosing essays, and writing essays. We love essays that feel urgent, essays we can’t put down, and essays that don’t turn away when the truth gets difficult or slippery.

We also like to think about how the best essays work—and that’s why we’re starting a new online feature: River Teeth Revisited. Guest writers will choose essays they love from the River Teeth or Beautiful Things archives, think about particular elements and strategies the writers use to transform real life into essays that speak to the core of the human experience, and provide the gift of a writing prompt at the end.

River Teeth Revisited is a celebration of the essay and, we hope, a jumping-off point for readers and writers, teachers and students, anyone who has something to say and wants a place to begin. Remember that if you have access to the ProjectMuse database, you can find every essay River Teeth published since Fall 2003 in free, downloadable pdfs.

The idea for River Teeth Revisited was born before COVID-19, but of course we’re aware that we’re launching our first posts in the midst of a pandemic, in a time when the whole world has lurched on its axis. Nothing is the same as it was before and we know we won’t be the same when the worst is over and we step cautiously out our front doors again, blinking into the sun.

As I told my creative nonfiction writing students on the last day we were together physically, before we headed home and began our new online-learning lives: “This is what we do. We observe and take notes. We watch closely for the patterns and connections that will help us to find meaning in a world that often doesn’t make sense. We think about what it means to be human. We’ve been training for this. We’ve got this.”

Enjoy—and be safe,

Jill Christman
Senior Editor
Photo of Senior Editor, Jill Christman

Check with your library to find out if you have an institutional subscription to Project Muse, and thus, River Teeth’s archives.

River Teeth Revisited Collection

Black and white photo of church buildings with scaffolding

Outline as Structure: Scaffolding in a “Dark Barn”

By Micah Gjeltema
"When telling a true story, the “worldbuilding” is predetermined—the world of the essay is you, the writer, and all that you know. The context is as vast as experience, and the scope of the real resists containment. How can it possibly be shaped?"

“Terrible Sanity” and the Art of Narrative

by Jake Demers
"In “Terrible Sanity” (20.2), Sam Pickering wanders through his own life, lamenting the present and celebrating the past. At once dismissive of sentimentality and profoundly personal, the essay stands as both an ode to education and a yearning for simpler times."

“The Babysitter” by Anton DiSclafani: Writing the Braided Essay

I’ll admit it—I’m a sucker for a good woven essay. Call it a braided or challah essay, give it two strands, give it four. I’m drawn to them, and when I read a good one, I find myself pulling the pieces apart, trying to master the art of it. It’s not something I tend to lean toward in my own writing. When I’ve experimented with writing braided essays in the past, I’ve often felt the parts were too disparate, and I struggled to find that all-important connection between the threads. A good braided essay takes a few sections—maybe a few different periods in one’s life for example—and weaves them together, back and forth, until the connections between the strands becomes clear. I love to read and admire a good braided essay. Anton DiSclafani’s “The Babysitter,” included in River Teeth 19.2, is an exceptionally instructive example of the form.

Pacing & Tempo Possibilities for Micro Essays: A Beautiful Things Analysis

As a young singer, one of my largest challenges was learning how to control my breathing. Long phrases defied me; I would expend all of my air before the end of the line, resulting in an embarrassing wheeze as I struggled to sing the final notes. How many writers have encountered something similar while trying to write in compressed forms, such as flash and micro? So much to say—take a deep breath—but then, all too soon, the word counter on the bottom of the document tells the sad truth: no words left! The breath's run out! So the essay wraps up too quickly, a last gasp at whatever truth the writer wanted to tell.

“Almost Thirty” by Rachel Weaver: A Balancing Act in Narrative Rhythm

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in writing creative nonfiction is that, when in doubt, sometimes the best way to write about a thing is to write about something else entirely. Rachel Weaver uses this technique to great effect in her essay, "Almost Thirty" (River Teeth, Volume 20, Number 2, Spring 2019)—one of my favorites of the essays I’ve recently read. If you haven’t read it, read it now.

The main narrative of this essay takes place over a short span of time and follows a plot arc that’s about as straightforward as you can get: some friends go skating; the narrator falls through the ice; she manages to climb back out. But of course, the narrator’s physical actions aren’t what this essay is really about. They’re just the framework.

Allusion as Structure in Sean Ironman’s “And I Will Give You As Many Roast Bones As You Need”

Sean Ironman’s essay, “And I Will Give You As Many Roast Bones As You Need”** (River Teeth, Volume 21, Number 1, Fall 2019)—is the longest essay in River Teeth 21.1, and in the same way its name winds and wends, so too does the essay, bridging memory and history and theory together to form one long road that leads its way through the many ways humans and dogs have loved each other and lived together over the years.

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