Essay—from the French essai—was the word Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) used to define a new type of writing that was an “attempt” or “trial” to think clearly on the page. In such writing, Montaigne wished to “speak to the paper, just as [he spoke] to someone [he] met for the first time.” The late Richard Marius, who directed the writing program at Harvard for nearly twenty years, notes that, “Montaigne wrote…without accepting the prejudices of the crowd and without seeking the favor of the powerful. His writing is natural, unaffected, simple. He never feared to be in the minority on an issue. He tried to see things as they were. He proved that an honest observer has something new to say.”
As purveyor of his new form, Montaigne professed, “I freely give my opinion on all things, even those that may go beyond my competence and on which I by no means claim to be an authority. And so my thoughts about them are only to reveal the extent of my vision and not the limits of things themselves.”
The pieces in Essay are meant to invoke Montaigne’s time-tested trial for truth. Essay publishes nonfiction and artwork by undergraduate students at Susquehanna University. In addition to this online issue, Essay publishes a print issue featuring more incredible works of nonfiction. The print issues are distributed on Susquehanna University’s campus every spring.