Disclosure: Some of the links in this booklist of essay collections are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.
Essay collections combine creativity and academic language to make smart, fun-to-read pieces. They help readers step into another’s shoes and experience the world as they do. Furthermore, like short story collections, they’re easy to read in chunks.
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Jamison discusses and analyzes empathy from several angles, such as womanhood and as an observer of those suffering from improbable maladies. These essays challenge readers to understand the line between empathy and tragedy voyeurism.
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
This collection follows the likes of Roxane Gay and bell hooks. McMillan Cottom discusses subjects such as race, money, beauty, and more. The author puts at the forefront what it means to be thick – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
Wang gives an intimate look into living with mental and chronic illness. The candid discussion of living with schizophrenia helps create a better understanding of an often misrepresented condition.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
Young’s memoir as a book of essays explores what it means to be a black man in white America. Though it delves into heavy themes of race, Young does so with a humorous touch. Even when it seems the stories become harder and harder to carry.
Shapes of Native Nonfiction ed. by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton
Editors Washuta and Warburton gathered works from 27 Native writers. It contains pieces by writers across the tribes of Turtle Island. Furthermore, this diverse collection of perspectives holds as one of the best nonfiction essay collections.
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
From award-winning poet, Claudia Rankine, comes a collection filled with lyrical precision. Published in the era of the Bush administration, Rankine explores themes of race, terrorism, politics, and more.