Keep Up with Essay and Memoir One Paragraph at a Time

A New Feature (Almost) Every Friday

September 18, 2020


from The Way of Imagination: Essays

by Scott Russell Sanders


“Each of these steps, Sanders realizes in a call for enormous cultural change to achieve justice and save the planet, requires an act of humanity’s greatest gift, the imagination.”—THE


Among Scott Russell Sanders’ more than twenty books are novels, collections of stories, and works of personal nonfiction, including Staying Put, Writing from the Center, Hunting for Hope, and A Private History of Awe. In the past decade he has published many works including A Conservationist Manifesto, his vision of a shift from a culture of consumption to a culture of caretaking, and Earth Works, a selection of his best essays from the past thirty years. The Paragraph of the Week is from his new collection of essays, The Way of Imagination. You can learn more about Sanders and his work at his website, here.

The Paragraph of the Week


Consider what a mysterious power [imagination] is. We can see things that are not actually present before our eyes—not only things remembered, such as a childhood bedroom, but also things we have not experienced, such as climbing Mount Denali, as well as things no one has experienced, such as a journey to the stars. We can travel into the past or future while our bodies never budge. We can lay out plans in our minds, step by step, for a meal or a house, before lifting a hand to begin the work. Imagination keeps us from being trapped in the present arrangement of things. We can live in the midst of slavery and envision slavery’s abolition. In the midst of a society that oppresses women, we can envision their acquiring rights equal to those of men. In the midst of damaged land and endangered species, we can foresee their restoration.

—Scott Russell Sanders



At a dinner Scott Russell Sanders learned that his fellow guest was inspired to buy up large tracts of land and restore them to their original state after reading about “the forest primeval” in the poem “Evangeline” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Sanders used the dinner conversation as a way to “reverse engineer” the man’s benevolence—to reason backwards from the desired result to discover its causes.  The first step, he realized, was “the transfer of vision from a writer’s mind to a reader’s mind” illustrating the power of art to create a vivid and indelible impression on a reader. In addition, Sanders’ dinner companion performed a mental leap that “propelled him backward and forward through time,” seeing in his mind’s eye the pristine forest of the past thriving in a future well after his life would be over. But neither the power of art nor the ability to move through time can restore the forest without compassion for people in the future he will never meet. Each of these steps, Sanders realizes in a call for enormous cultural change to achieve justice and save the planet, requires an act of humanity’s singular gift, the imagination, the ability to envision, time-travel, and feel empathy to avoid being “trapped in the present arrangement of things.”


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published my brief lyric essay “Folly Beach” for a special issue on water. Check it out here.—THE

Photo Credit: “Family” by Jan Price

Folly Beach 

Folly Beach, Steven Harvey's newest book, 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.


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