HomeWritersLiterary AgentsEditorsPublishersResourcesDiscussion
Forum Login | Join the discussion
+ Reply to Thread
Results 1 to 10 of 10

Thread: need a critique

  1. #1
    r k

    need a critique

    Can someone read my essay (topic is on what you believe in, what truths you hold dear)adn give me advice on how to tighten it? I would truly appreciate it.


    I believe in placing yourself within the context of the world. I believe in traveling abroad. I believe there’s a beauty in greeting someone in a tongue that’s not my own. When the inflection in my voice rises as it should or I remember, sometimes inexplicably, the gender of a noun, I feel empowered, connected to a culture that will undoubtedly add depth to my own. It is a lesson, a truth I’ve held dear since I traveled to Sarajevo during my junior year of college.

    It was a land recovering from the worst recorded war in Europe since WWI and I was a young African American coed recovering from a liver transplant and the onset of colon disease. From a logical standpoint it seemed an unwise trip to take. But as a college student grappling with such hefty themes as mortality and identity, it was where I needed to be. So I left my cushioned hub—the richest country in the world—and headed for a beautiful land that had seen horrors author Peter Maass described as “worlds that would sicken Edgar Allan Poe.”

    In addition to working at a radio station whose main objective was to promote an inclusive, united Bosnia, I participated in relief missions. On one such trip, I drove with a group of civic-minded students to a refugee camp in the hills outside Sarajevo. With the help of Spanish peacekeeping troops, we distribute food and cloths to families. I do not speak Serbo-Croatian but I understood their gratefulness as they lowered their heads, just as I’ve done when confronted with a humbling situation. Like them, my family had once needed government food rations. And as I gave piggyback rides to their children they understood, although they didn’t speak English, where my heart was. The troops had designated me as the girl who would give out cheese, but my role felt more significant. As I left the refugee camp, which had once operated as a ski lodge, I said goodbye (Dovidjenja) in a Slavic tongue completely unknown to me. They responded by smiling and giving a thumbs up.

    Growing up my mother cooked quiche and collard greens and garnished with both béarnaise sauce and hot sauce. She didn’t have the means to take us abroad, but she wanted us to know there were customs, foods, languages, religions and arts that differed from that of our own. Each was presented as valuable, beautiful, multi-layered.

    I took far more from Bosnia than I gave her. I sampled her arts, food, music, worked alongside her countrymen, danced with her youth and as a result, learned that my world is larger, more beautiful, sadder and richer than I imagined. Traveling abroad left me grateful for what I had and conversely, wanting to do more, see more, help more, live more. It was the perfect antidote to issues pertaining to mortality and identity.

  2. #2
    Denise .

    Re: need a critique

    rk, my initial impressions: This is an interesting account, BUT it needs a hook, and it doesn't seem to have the cohesion of an essay. It hits me more as a travel piece. An essay, as I understand it, has a sort of hypothesis that you are challenging or proving. This seems scattered. What is the core message you are trying to convey? That should be in the beginning and wind back around at the end.

  3. #3
    Nathan Nicholl

    Re: need a critique

    Beautiful writing, r k.

    "Bosnia was recovering from the worst recorded war in Europe since WWI..."

    "In addition to working at a radio station whose main objective was to promote an inclusive, united Bosnia, I participated in relief missions."
    I don't like "in addition." It's horrible phrase and it's a weak start to the paragraph.

    "cloths" -> "clothes"

    "I took far more from Bosnia than I gave her."
    I thought "her" was your mother for a moment. It's a bit confusing.

    Maybe consider expanding the paragraph about your mother so that it links in the the preceeding and following paragraphs a bit better.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. #4
    frank wilson

    Re: need a critique

    So what is it that you believe in then? Travelling?

  5. #5

    Re: need a critique

    Well done, RK! You held my interest the whole way through. However, you stopped short of the punchline. What's missing for me is what Frank just pointed out--I still don't have a strong sense of what you believe in or why your beliefs matter.

    "I believe in placing yourself within the context of the world."

    I think you could keep this belief and leave out the other beliefs you mention, because they're interrelated. Then, shift the focus slightly to include more about you. You left me curious about what issues you faced regarding mortality and identity, and how your time in Bosnia helped you untangle them. Weave your story in with the story of those you helped, and you'll bring a sharper focus to this essay.

    In other words, show us how this experience placed you into the context of the world, and how that shaped your beliefs.

    If you need to tighten and you take the above suggestion, I think you could leave out the part about your mom's cooking. It gives some background on why you are someone who was open to learning about other cultures, but it's not absolutely necessary. With all due respect to your mom and those memories, of course. :-)

    I really like your writing--keep at it!

  6. #6
    Kris T

    Re: need a critique

    I agree with the others...missing, here, is a solid focal point around which all of your beautiful description should center.

  7. #7
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: need a critique

    Just out of curiosity-- Is this essay for the NPR "This I Believe" program? If you haven't done so already, you should go to the Web site and read some of the accepted essays. Those examples will give you a good model of how to structure this. I have to agree with the other comments in that I'm not sure exactly what your core belief is. Travelling? Seeing the world? Being receptive to other cultures? Why? What does this belief do for you?

    One of the best essays, I believe (oops! sorry!), is about funerals. See if you can find it. That essay has a solid framework that closes with a restated version of the beginning statement.

  8. #8
    r k

    Re: need a critique


    Yes it is for NPR:-) And I, too, read the funeral essay. I really enjoyed it. I will go back and re-read the essays and instructions. Hopefully I'll be able to tighten mine. Thanks everyone for your comments. I truly appreciate your candor and kind words.

  9. #9
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: need a critique


    I've submitted an essay to them as well but haven't heard back from them. Something that was a surprise to me was that after I completed the submission form with my essay, they then asked for a separate (longer) essay on my experience writing the essay itself. I had the impression that the "essay about writing the essay" might bear significant weight on how they make their decisions. Just thought I'd give you a "heads up" on that one. Good luck to you. It was a fun project, even if my essay doesn't get selected.

  10. #10
    r k

    Re: need a critique

    good luck to you as well jeanne. maybe in the not too distant future we'll see and hear our essays on NPR.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts