Famous Personal Narrative Essays About Life

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Read some of the most thought-provoking personal narrative essays about life experiences that will change the way you think. You’ll find here some of the most popular best short narrative essays to read if you want to challenge yourself and the way you think about the world.

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Thought-Provoking Short Narrative Essays About Life

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If you’ve been looking for some of the most famous essays about life, home, identity, love, death, and everything in between then you’re at the right place. We created this narrative essay list to help you explore some of the most celebrated and thought-provoking personal narrative essays of all time.

You’ll find here some of the most beloved novelists of all time who wrote essays on a wide variety of vital topics. These brilliant and inspiring narrative essays will not only make you think deeper about yourself and the world around you but will help you understand your favorite author’s thought process and worldview better.

RELATED: Thought-Provoking Books About Good & Evil

Thanks to these short narrative essays you’ll be able to explore larger than life themes in inspiring and creative ways that’ll give you comfort and can answer some of your biggest questions and doubts. You’ll not only find her some of the best personal narrative essays of all time but also lesser-known gems that’ll surprise you.

So get ready to find answers to some of the biggest philosophical questions about life, relationships, and our existence through classic and modern stories about war, feminism, racial injustice, class conflicts, everyday life, and even gaming.

10| Why I Write By Joan Didion – 1976

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays - Famous Personal Narrative Essays About Life

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If you’re looking for personal narrative essays about life and writing then you should check out Didion’s works. ‘Why I Write‘ is one of her most famous essays about writing and you’ll get an insider look into her creative process, the reasons she became a writer, as well learn about her fascinating journey as a writer.

You can read her personal narrative essay ‘Why I Write‘ for free online here. or you can get one of her many brilliant essay collections to get to know her work and life better. Probably her most popular book is her memoir; ‘The Year Of Magical Thinking‘ but her essays are just as illuminating and entertaining to read so give it a try.


9| It’s Silly To Be Frightened Of Being Dead by Diana Athill – 2014

Alive, Alive Oh And Other Things That Matter by Diana Athill

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If you’ve been looking for essays about war and the meaning of life and death then Diana Athill’s personal narrative essay ‘It’s Silly To Be Frightened Of Being Dead‘ is a great choice for you. Athill discusses her life from childhood and what was it like to be a kid in the 1920s, during World War 2, and until the present day.

Athill was 96 when she wrote her absorbing short essay and its focus is death, killing, and dying and her shifting attitude towards it all. You can read her essay online for free here but we also recommend checking out her other works and essay collections.


8| Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – 2012

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay - Famous Personal Narrative Essays About Life

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Roxane Gay is one of the most influential and beloved essay writers of our time and for a good reason. Her writing is not only relatable but insightful, sharp, and it’ll also surely make you laugh. You can read her essay online for free here.

However, if you’re interested in reading more personal narrative essays about feminism and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s society then you should check out her bestselling essay collection too.


7| Mother Tongue by Amy Tan – 1990

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Amy Tan’s beautiful personal narrative essay is about her life as a second-generation Chinese-American and her relationship with her Chinese mom. It’s a brilliantly written short essay that explores language, culture, and how loving but difficult mother/daughter relationships can be.

You can read her essay for free online here. You should read her other works too if you’re interested in diverse writers and cultural topics and especially if you’re also into thought-provoking fiction books. Her novel most famous novel ‘The Joy Luck Club‘ spent 40 weeks on the New York Times best seller list and it explores the same fascinating and thought-provoking subjects.


6| Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1841

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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If you’re here because you’re looking for inspirational personal narrative essays about life that will make you think differently and most likely change your life for the better then you should read ‘Self-Reliance‘.

Ralph Waldo Emerson became the most widely known essayist and ‘man of letters’ in America during his lifetime and he is still one of the most influential essayists of all time. His thought-provoking personal narrative essay is about life and how to live it with integrity and will help you understand why it’s important to live fully authentically as yourself.

You can read the essay online for free here. or you can check out his other essays, poetry, and other writings on a wide variety of topics that will surely make you think differently about life, relationships, self-acceptance, and self-love.


5| Destroy All Monsters by Paul La Farge – 2006

The Night Ocean: A Novel by Paul La Farge

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La Farge’s fascinating personal narrative essay about gaming life and how kids and adult gamers escape into the game and often damage their family relationships is certainly not just for Dungeons & Dragons fans. It is an especially interesting read if you do play D&D or are into role-playing games in general but it can be illuminating for you if you’re trying to understand better why your friends, partner, or kids love so much getting lost in role-playing games.

He also explores some of the darker sides of D&D and how it can become toxic and damaging.

If you enjoy LitRPG books and gaming books this essay will probably spark many conversations with your gaming pals or within your book club. You can read La Farge’s essay online for free here and if you like his style and thought process you should also check out his other brilliant works.


4| Total Eclipse by Annie Dillard -1982

Total Eclipse by Annie Dillard - Famous Personal Narrative Essays About Life

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Dillard’s work quickly became one of the most celebrated personal nonfiction essays of all time. In her masterpiece ‘Total Eclipse‘ she tells her personal story of a solar eclipse she and her husband watched in Washington State. Dillard explores themes like the comfort of familiarity, the feeling of isolation, as well as the connections between humans and the world surrounding them.

Her essay first appeared in her essay collection ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk‘ but now you can also read her essay for free online here.


3| The Death Of The Moth by Virginia Woolf – 1942

The Death Of The Moth by Virginia Woolf

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One of Virginia Woolf’s most famous personal narrative essays ‘The Death Of The Moth‘ was first published only a year after she eventually committed suicide by drowning after a lifetime of battling mental illness.

Woolf describes hows a moth died on her window plane and uses it as a metaphor to explore ideas surrounding the meaning of life and how death is inevitable.

You can read her essay for free online here and if you only read her novels so far you might want to also check out her essay collection.


2| Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell – 1952

George Orwell – Such, Such Were the Joys a collection of essays

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Orwell’s autobiographical essay ‘Such, Such Were The Joys‘ describes his experiences as a young kid and his early teens (ages of eight and thirteen) in graphic detail and explores the topic of the psychology of children and how it was affected by class prejudice, oppression and class conflicts between the widely different world-views of the Edwardian middle and upper class.

You’re probably already familiar with Orwell’s fascinating and thought-provoking novels that still feel contemporary and vital to this day so you might want to give his essays a try. You can get started with  ‘Such, Such Were The Joys’ which you can read online for free here.


1| Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin – 1955

James Baldwin essays

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James Baldwin’s famous and widely celebrated personal narrative essay ‘Notes of a Native Son’ explores themes of racism, whiteness, and Blackness by tackling issues of race in America and Europe. With his work, he wants readers not only to be aware of racial injustice but to look at prejudice, analyze it, understand where it comes from, and find ways to deal with it.

You can read his essay for free online here but if you’re interested in inspiring and thought-provoking novels, poetry, and plays you should check out his other works too.

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