How to Write an Autobiographical Essay
Hosted by Sari Botton


Great personal essays can enlighten, move, and inspire readers. They can launch careers and lead to book deals. But for every great essay out there, there are hundreds published that miss the mark. What are the elements that set a great essay apart from a bad one, or even just a merely good one? Who better to comment on this than Alexander Chee, novelist and author of the essay collection, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, and editor of the 2022 edition of The Best American Essays; Gary Shteyngart, award winning novelist and essayist (with a side-splitting and moving contribution in Chee’s edition of BAE;) and Carolita Johnson, a New Yorker cartoonist whose illustrated essays always leave everyone talking? Moderated by Sari Botton, former essays editor for Longreads, and the editor of the bestselling essay anthologies Goodbye to All That and Never Can Say Goodbye.

Sari Botton is a light-skinned woman with pepper and salt hair bangs. Wearing clear plastic eyeglasses and a white sleeveless vest with a silver necklace and a pink tattoo of branches on her left arm.

Sari Botton (moderator) is the author of the memoir in essays, And You May Find Yourself…Confessions of a Late-Blooming Gen-X Weirdo. She is a contributing editor and columnist at Catapult, and the former Essays Editor for Longreads. She edited the bestselling anthologies Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York and Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York. She teaches creative nonfiction at Catapult, Bay Path University and Kingston Writers’ Studio. She publishes Oldster Magazine, Memoir Monday, and Adventures in Journalism. She is the Writer in Residence in the creative writing department of SUNY New Paltz for Spring, 2023. at Bay Path University.


Alexander Chee is the bestselling author of the novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, and the essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel. A contributing editor at The New Republic, his essays and stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, T Magazine, The Sewaneee Review, and the 2016 and 2019 Best American Essays. He is a 2021 United States Artists Fellow, a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction, and the recipient of a Whiting Award and a NEA Fellowship. He teaches as an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College.

Carolita Johnson has medium toned skin and dark shoulder length hair. Dark eyes, pink lipstick and wearing a gray t-shirt

Carolita Johnson is a cartoonist at The New Yorker magazine, as well as a freelance essayist and storyteller, and a Kingston O+ Alumnus whose work has appeared on Kingston Streets and in the Chosen Family zine. She is multiracial, non-binary, and goes by pronouns she/her. She is currently writing a book to be called Gloria Ever After, a very fictionalized account of her return “home” as a caregiver to her mentally ill, elderly, South American mother, and the ensuing search for a long-lost family member whose disappearance is the key to her family’s many fictions, as well as the dark secrets that she and her mother and other descendants of Spanish-colonized countries continue to live with. It has pirates and buried treasure, volcanoes, fugitive Nazis meeting justice, betrayal, death, adventure, and a happy ending that doesn’t involve falling in love and living happily ever after.

Black and white photo of author Gary Shteyngart has a receding hairline, dark hair, heavy dark eyebrows, dark rimmed glasses. Wearing a suit jacket with a dark shirt and wristwatch

Gary Shteyngart is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Little Failure (a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist) and the novels Super Sad True Love Story (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Lake SuccessAbsurdistan, and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (winner of the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction). His books regularly appear on best-of lists around the world and have been published in thirty countries. His latest novel, Our County Friends, was an instant New York Times bestseller and was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time magazine, Kirkus Review, and others. New York Times critic Molly Young called it the “perfect novel for these times and all times, the single textual artifact from the pandemic era I would place in a time capsule as a representation of all that is good and true and beautiful about literature. I hope the extraterrestrials who exhume it will agree.”

Get a Full Festival pass and you’ll get to take in the Story Slam on Thursday night. Then sail into the weekend: attending all the wonderful panels, both Little Bites and Big Libations Cocktail Parties, and both evening events. And share the bounty from our always-stuffed goody bag.

37 Tinker Street
Saturday April 1, 2023