Phillip Lopate

Distinguished Essayist & Novelist
Acclaimed Film Critic

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • Susan Sontag: An American Artist
  • The Art of the Personal Essay
  • Being with Children
  • Chekov for Children: The Power of Plays
  • An Evening with Philip Lopate

“Lopate is a fantastic writer—humane, wry, and always astonishingly willing to take on the ineffable, attuned to the complexities of symbiotic relationships we only intuited before his dazzling collage was created.” —Ann Beattie 

“Phillip Lopate is one of our few essential essayists. He registers with accuracy and tact the voice of a man of deep human impulse living in a civilization on the wane. His fearlessness is tonic, his candor is straight gin.” —Sven Birkerts

Widely considered one of the foremost American essayists and a central figure in the recent revival of interest in memoir writing, Phillip Lopate is best known for his supple and surprising essays, which have been collected in Getting Personal: Selected Writings (Basic Books, 2003). Lopate is the author of three essay collections, Bachelorhood (Little, Brown & Co., 1981); Against Joie de Vivre (Simon & Schuster, 1989); and Portrait of My Body (Doubleday-Anchor, 1996). A new collection, Portrait Inside My Head, was published in February 2013 (Simon & Schuster). He has also published two novellas in one book entitled Two Marriages (Other Press, 2008); two novels, Confessions of Summer (Doubleday, 1979) and The Rug Merchant (Viking, 1987); three poetry collections, At the End of the Day: Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk Press, 2009), The Eyes Don’t Always Want to Stay Open (Sun Press, 1972), and The Daily Round (Sun Press, 1976); and a memoir of his teaching experiences, Being With Children (Doubleday, 1975). Lopate is also the author of Notes on Sontag, a frank, witty, and entertaining reflection on the work, influence, and personality of one of the “foremost interpreters of…our recent contemporary moment.” An instructive book, To Show and Tell: the Craft of Literary Nonfiction, was published in February 2013 (Simon & Schuster).

He has also edited the anthologies The Art of the Personal Essay, Writing New York (The Library of America, 1998); Journal of a Living Experiment (Teachers & Writers Press, 1979); and a series collecting the best essays of the year, The Anchor Essay Annual (Anchor, 1997). Lopate’s work has been included in The Best American Essays and The Pushcart Prize series. One of his most recent books of nonfiction prose is the urban meditation, Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan, of which Conde-Nast Traveler wrote, “The celebrated essayist takes a tour of the city’s ever-changing perimeter, sharing his knowledge of New York’s history, mythology, and plans for the future. Poring over his informed, readable prose is like taking a stroll with a favorite professor: he is opinionated, casual, and erudite in equal measure.”

Also a film critic, Lopate has written about movies for The New York Times, Vogue, Esquire, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Cinemabook, Tikkun, American Film, and the anthology The Movie That Changed My Life, among others. A volume of his selected movie criticism, Totally Tenderly Tragically, was published by Doubleday-Anchor in 1998. His most recent film anthology is American Movie Critics: From the Silent Era to the Present (The Library of America, 2006). His writings about architecture and urbanism have appeared in Metropolis, The New York Times, Double Take, Preservation, Cite and 7 Days, where he wrote a bi-monthly architectural column. He was also a recipient of a Revson Fellowship in Urban Studies at Columbia, and served as a committee member for the Municipal Art Society and as a consultant for Ric Burns’ PBS documentary on the history of New York City. He has written on travel for the New York Times Sophisticated Traveler, Conde Nast Traveler, European Travel and Life, Sidestreets of the World, and American Airlines Magazine.

Lopate’s many awards include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts grants. He also received a Christopher medal for Being With Children, the Texas Institute of Letters Award for best nonfiction book of the year (Bachelorhood), and was a finalist for the PEN Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for best essay book of the year (Portrait of My Body). His anthology Writing New York received an honorable mention from the Municipal Art Society’s Brendan Gill Award, and a citation from the New York Society Library.

Phillip Lopate was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1943, and received a bachelor’s degree at Columbia in 1964, and a doctorate at Union Graduate School in 1979. He held the Adams Chair at Hofstra University, where he is a professor of English, and has been appointed a Professor of Professional Practice in the School of the Arts and the School of Journalism at Columbia University.

Phillip Lopate website

Phillip Lopate is the author of the essay collections Portrait Inside My Head; Getting Personal: Selected WritingsBachelorhoodAgainst Joie de Vivre; and Portrait of My BodyHe has also published two novellas in Two Marriages; two novels, Confessions of Summer and The Rug Merchant; three poetry collections, At the End of the Day: Selected PoemsThe Eyes Don’t Always Want to Stay Open, and The Daily Round; and a memoir of his teaching experiences, Being With ChildrenAn instructive book, To Show and Tell: the Craft of Literary Nonfiction was published in February 2013. Lopate’s many awards include a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a New York Public Library Center for Scholars and Writers Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts grants, and two New York Foundation for the Arts grants. 

In this stunning compilation of personal essays, celebrated author, film critic, poet, and acclaimed essayist Phillip Lopate weaves together the most colorful threads of a life well lived, inviting readers on an invigorating and thoughtful journey through memory, culture, parenthood, the trials of marriage both young and old, and an extraordinary look at New York’s storied past and present. Letting his mind wander skillfully across the page, Lopate offers a stirring meditation on everything from sex and politics to baseball and aging. Portrait Inside My Head is a charming and spirited new collection for readers to treasure.

In his acclaimed classic anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate gave readers a premier collection of the finest essays in the genre. Now, in To Show and to Tell, he provides the nuts and bolts, offering a refreshing new master class on the craft of the personal narrative, including the personal essay and memoir. In his flawless, appealing conversational prose, Lopate gives expert guidance on navigating the many issues facing writers today, including how to turn oneself into a character; how to write about friends and loved ones; and how to successfully end an essay, all the while elaborating on the evolving place of creative nonfiction in the literary world. The result is a brilliant magnum opus compiled from over forty years of teaching his craft to thousands of young writers, from elementary students to MFAs.

TWO MARRIAGES (Novellas, 2008)
Elegant, concise, and comically devastating, Two Marriages illuminates the ways in which love is inseparable from deceit. “The Stoic’s Marriage” chronicles the life of newlyweds Gordon and Rita.  Well-off, idle Gordon, a lifelong student of philosophy who has always had “a stunted capacity for happiness,” first meets the enchanting Rita when she comes to his home as a nurse’s aid sent to care for his dying mother.  The attraction is instant, and a marriage proposal ensues. Gordon turns to his diary to record his luxoriousness and to expound on the merits of Stoicism, the philosophy he’s adopted as his “substitute religion.” When Rita’s cousin from the Philippines arrives one Christmas, setting in motion an outrageous and hilarious sequence of events, both Gordon’s stoicism and marriage vows are put to the test. Eleanor, or, “The Second Marriage” recounts one seemingly golden weekend in the lives of Eleanor and Frank, whose Brooklyn townhouse is a gathering place for their circle of cultured, cosmopolitan friends.  It is Saturday morning, and Frank and Eleanor are planning the dinner they will host to celebrate the visit of a famous actor friend.  These preparations are interrupted by the arrival of Frank’s son, a young man deeply troubled by his own aimlessness.  Other guests arrive; and in the midst of great conviviality, simmering tensions erupt into raucous emotional dramas.

NOTES ON SONTAG (nonfiction excerpt)

One of Sontag’s favorite structural devices was to organize her reflections around a set of notes. It was a technique that honored modernism’s fragmentation and its modest disavowal of grand resolution. So I have taken her lead, and offer these “notes” on a fascinating literary figure. To be sure, while patterns are suggested, there is no single governing thesis that I am putting forth here, so don’t bother looking for one. Instead, I have allowed myself the freedom to follow my nose, tracking some of Sontag’s characteristic qualities, strategies, influences, enthusiasms, pet dislikes, and contradictions in an essayistic circling from different perspectives. By taking soundings, sometimes from a chronological, sometimes a thematic, sometimes a genre-oriented, sometimes a personal vantage-point, it is my hope that each will reinforce the others.


In writing memoir, the trick, it seems to me, is to establish a double perspective, that will allow the reader to participate vicariously in the experience as it was lived (the confusions and misapprehensions of the child one was, say), while conveying the sophisticated wisdom of one’s current self. This second perspective, the author’s retrospective employment of a more mature intelligence to interpret the past, is not merely an obligation but a privilege, an opportunity. In any autobiographical narrative, whether memoir or personal essay, the heart of the matter often shines through those passages where the writer analyzes the meaning of his or her experience. The quality of thinking, the depth of insight and the willingness to wrest as much understanding as the writer is humanly capable of arriving at—these are guarantees to the reader that a particular author’s sensibility is trustworthy and simpatico. With me, it goes further: I have always been deeply attracted to just those passages where the writing takes an analytical, interpretative turn, and which seem to me the dessert, the reward of prose.


Perhaps more than any other giant of world cinema, Luchino Visconti occupies an uneasy critical niche.  He does not fit tidily into the pat formal lineages by which cinema history gets divided.  He is usually credited as one of the founders of Italian neo-realism (along with Rossellini and DeSica), but his love of melodrama, of grand passions spilling from overflowing canvases, turned him into a walking oxymoron of operatic realism, bisexuality, extravagant restraint.  Politically progressive, celebrating in many of his greatest films the vitality of the working class, he was also the supreme elegist of his own aristocratic world—exemplifying, as it were, that truism that patricians often feel more compatible with the poor than the middle class.