Keep Up with the Essay One Paragraph at a Time

A New Feature (Almost) Every Friday

September 30, 2022

from “The Ghosts I Run With”

by Matt Tullis


When Matt Tullis passed the window of his old hospital room during a marathon in Akron, he was running with ghosts.”—THE


We got word recently that Matt Tullis died  from complications after a surgery to correct problems that developed during his life-long struggle with cancer. Matt taught at Fairfield University, and his areas of focus were narrative journalism (both the study of it and the reporting and writing of it), as well as convergent journalism and entrepreneurial journalism.  I met Matt when we taught together in the Ashland MFA in Creative Writing and through our work together at River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction.  In honor of Matt we reprise our Fall 2017 feature on his essay The Ghosts I Run With in SB Nation that later became part of the book he is best known for, Running with Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer. You can read the entire essay and see a great photo of Matt here, but please read our short feature first as an introduction to his work.

The Paragraph of the Week


I started walking and stretched. I got going again, and then, toward the end, was coming down South Main Street, toward Canal Park. I looked off to the right and saw the hospital. My room and the place our support group met had long since been demolished and replaced with a big, new fancy hospital floor, but I could see where my hospital room had once been, where I had once looked out a window from my hospital bed onto the streets of Akron, streets I was now running. I thought about those days and nights when my mom or dad begged me to get out of bed, to take a walk down the hallway, just to sit up, to care, to want to live. I thought about the nights I couldn’t sleep, and the nights I could. I thought about the day I was supposed to have brain surgery to remove that infection, and how that surgery was called off at the last minute. I thought about how, when I got out of the hospital, I couldn’t walk from my bedroom to the kitchen without getting exhausted, without feeling dead.

—Matt Tullis


When Matt Tullis passed the window of his old hospital room during a marathon in Akron, he was running with ghosts.  There was Janet, the nurse in the children’s oncology ward who brought him sausage biscuits from Macdonald’s many mornings and “died of cancer after years of caring for kids with cancer.”  Todd who got his prosthetic leg caught in the stirrup while riding horseback but managed to unhook it before being dragged and “laughed like a maniac.”  Melissa, whom Matt was sweet on, who struggled like him with baldness and vomiting from the chemo.  Their doctor who died of bile duct cancer, the “most caring man I have ever known,” Matt wrote, who told him his “heart was strong maybe a hundred times.” There were many more “who didn’t make it”: Terri, Laura Jo, Shelby, and Little John.  “All of them ghosts now.”  There were the kids in his group who created the game “Road to Remission” featured in a spot on Good Morning America. Five of the eight died. “Only Tim, Michael and myself, reached remission,” Matt thought until one day he called the nurse to ask what Tim was up to and the nurse said “Oh, Matt.”  All gone.  So on this day while running a marathon “that makes him feel more alive than I have in my life” Matt Tullis passes the hospital where he and so many children were treated and feels the presence of all of those who shared his ward and did not survive, ghosts running with him.


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Announcement: The Beloved Republic


I am pleased to announce that my fourth collection of personal essays called The Beloved Republic won the Wandering Aengus Press nonfiction award and will be published early in 2023. Thanks to the Press for this honor.

What is the Beloved Republic? E. M. Forster, who coined the phrase, called it “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky” who “have the power to endure” and “can take a joke.” Pitted against authoritarianism, the Beloved Republic is the peaceful and fragile confederacy of kind, benevolent, and creative people in a world of tyrants, thugs, and loud-mouthed bullies. Taking Forster’s phrase for its title, my book can be read as dispatches from that besieged land.

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Folly Beach 

Folly Beach, my most recent book publication, is a personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity, certainly a message for our frightening times. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word.  In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.


In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.

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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.

THE Mission

We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques.  A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought.  But what is a paragraph?  And what, in particular, is a good one?  You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith.  So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary.   We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life.  Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work.  We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.


The Humble Essayist thanks Clipartpal for the public domain artwork of "The Old Man Reading" that is the logo for the site.