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Essays
Probing essays and observations by acclaimed actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, in his first nonfiction collection.
“Full of what you might call conversation starters: tricky propositions about morality... politics, privilege, runaway nationalist fantasies, collective guilt, and art as a force for change (or not)...It’s a treat to hear him speak his curious mind.”—O Magazine


In these beautiful essays, Wallace Shawn takes us on a revelatory journey in which the personal and political become one.


Whether writing about the genesis of his plays, such as Aunt Dan and Lemon; discussing how the privileged world of arts and letters takes for granted the work of the “unobtrusives,” the people who serve our food and deliver our mail; or describing his upbringing in the sheltered world of Manhattan’s cultural elite, Shawn reveals a unique ability to step back from the appearance of things to explore their deeper social meanings. He grasps contradictions, even when unpleasant, and challenges us to look, as he does, at our own behavior in a more honest light. He also finds the pathos in the political and personal challenges of everyday life.


With a sharp wit, remarkable attention to detail, and the same acumen as a writer of prose as he is a playwright, Shawn invites us to look at the world with new eyes, the better to understand—and change it.


Praise for Wallace Shawn and Essays: 


“Lovely, hilarious and seriously thought provoking, I enjoyed it tremendously.”—Toni Morrison


“Wallace Shawn writes in a style that is deceptively simple, profoundly thoughtful, fiercely honest. His vocabulary is pungent, his wit delightful, his ideas provocative.”—Howard Zinn, author, A People’s History of the United States


“Wally Shawn’s essays are both powerful and riveting. How rare to encounter someone willing to question the assumptions of class and the disparity of wealth that grows wider every year in this country. To have such a gentle and incisive soul willing to say what others may be afraid to is considerably refreshing.”—Michael Moore, film-maker


“Wallace Shawn’s career as a playwright has been uncompromisingly devoted to proving, again and again, that theater is an ideal medium for exploring difficult matters of great consequence. The qualities that make his dramatic work so challenging, startling, unsettling, sensual, mind-and-soul expanding, so indispensible, are equally in evidence in the marvelous political and theatrical essays collected here. The basic faith of politically progressive people, that human beings are full of decent impulses perverted by political and economic malevolence, is in Shawn’s writing held up to the liveliest, sharpest scrutiny imaginable; not, as in so much reactionary art, to shift blame from oppressor to oppressed, or from artifice to Nature, not to insist that we’re innately, inescapably incapable of change, but rather as a scrupulous accounting of the slippery ethics, dream logic, fear-ridden resistance to progress, disturbing desires, of the greatest problem confronting all our hopes for a better, transformed world: Us, the actors in our collective drama. His essays are without sentiment and entirely resistant to the easy comforts of despair. Complexities are rendered delightfully plain, obfuscations are unsnarled and illuminated, clarity and rational thought are organized to plumb mysteries, and mysteries are respected and celebrated. Shawn’s language, his unmistakable, original voice, felicitous, is unadorned, elegant, immediate, true. He’s also a brilliant interviewer, as everyone who’s seen My Dinner With Andre (which is just about everyone) knows. And, of course, he’s very funny.”—Tony Kushner, playwright, Angels in America


“Wallace Shawn is a bracing antidote to the op-ed dreariness of political and artistic journalism in the West. He takes you back to the days when intellectuals had the wit and concentration to formulate great questions - and to make the reader want to answer them.”—David Hare, playwright


Other books by Wallace Shawn

  • Night Thoughts

    Writer and actor Wallace Shawn's probing, honest, and self-critical take on civilization and its discontents.
  • Essays (unabridged audiobook)

    Probing essays by actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, read by the author in unabridged audiobook format