Newest Brief Essays

"Women's Hour, YMCA" featured in Kenyon Review Online

"I Second That Emotion" (craft essay) featured in New Ohio Review


Other Brief Essays

"Advanced Directive to My Future Roommate…"

"Things Gone the Way of Time," recently reprinted in Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction (Norton)


Study with Rebecca this summer

Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, June 18-25


Kenyon Review PODCAST with Rebecca

(on memoir, genre-crossing, writing practice, and more)


Word Painting Revised Edition: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively

New edition includes over 100 writing exercises for all genres.

Word Painting

The Tribal Knot

Rebecca'a newest nonfiction book, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change is now available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.

Tribal Knot

Excerpt from One Word Deep: Lectures and Readings

        There are twelve of us in the circle. Twelve women of all ages, races, and sizes.  Our instructor is a large, beautiful black man, an ex-Marine with a shaved head, a black belt in Karate, and what Aunt Bessie would call "killer eyes." But his laugh is easy and warm. I like him.  He either likes me a lot or he hates me, I can't tell which, because when he learns my father was a Marine, he singles me out. "Front and center, McClanahan," he shouts drill-sergeant style. "Higher on that kick. Put it there, McClanahan.  Right into the knee."  His face is masked to protect his eyes, and he is padded from shoulders to shins.  "You can't hurt me.  Kick!"  And when I'm too slow,  "You'd be dead by now,"  as he spins away and grabs me from behind.

        "If the thought of putting someone's eye out makes you sick," he tells us the next week, "get out now.  This isn't basket weaving.  This is life and death.  You've got to become an animal, get down to his level.  Out-animal him.  McClanahan, front and center."

        By the third week, seven women have dropped out.  The remaining five have grown claws and fur.  The louder he yells, the quicker our kicks, our punches.  We work with partners, one on one, alternating being the attacker and the attackee.  ("No one is a victim," the instructor says.  "You have to consent to be a victim.")   "Forget the groin.  If I'm high on dope, I won't feel it.  Go for the eyes.  The eyes and the knees.  Scream.  Bite.  Women always forget their teeth.  Bite and run.  Kick, scream, and run.  Remain cool, but do whatever it takes.  Out-animal him."

        The final exam is five minutes one-on-one against the instructor.  We can call time by raising our left hand.  If we do that, there will be no certificate, but we can retake the exam as many times as we like. I go early to class, lift weights, practice my kicks in the mirror.  Five minutes is not so long, I think.  I can do it.
        He calls me first, of course, and I leap in, cocky, firing on all pistons.  "Pace yourself," he says through the mask.  He grabs me around the neck. I lower my chin and simulate a bite on his wrist.  He drops his hands.  "One minute," the assistant shouts. I am panting.  Blood is thumping in my head.  I position my three middle fingers and go for what should be his eyes, but miss.  My hands slide off his slick head. I thrust out my right leg, aiming for his kneecap.  I lose my balance and fall, but have been trained to keep rolling, so I roll away from him, to the edge of the mat, then I'm up, and he's coming at me.  We circle awhile,  and when he leaps for me, I dart in the opposite direction.  My chest is burning. "Three minutes," the assistant calls. Years of jogging, aerobics, pool laps, have not prepared me for this.  I grab my chest, thinking I will die if I keep going.  I start to lift my arm, no certificate for me this time.  But he refuses to let me fail.  He grabs my arm and rolls me over until my face is pressed against the mat.  He is panting.  His breath is hot on my neck as he leans down and hisses, "Well, McClanahan.  Your life or mine?"  "Four minutes,"  says the assistant.  I lie flat against the mat, the blood thrumming in my head.  I have never been so hot.  I am sure I am dying.  Then something clicks in.  I clench my teeth and scream into the mat and, simultaneously, slide one arm out from under me, searching blindly for the inside of his leg, right above the kneecap.   I grab a knot of flesh and pinch, pinch, until he squeezes out a "Good move," and rolls off me.  "Time," yells the assistant.  I stagger to my knees, then to my feet.  The four other women are clapping.  My heart is beating behind my eyes.  I have bitten my tongue, and blood drips down my shirt....

Excerpt from One Word Deep: Lectures and Readings

Excerpt from One Word Deep: Lectures and Readings
Other Nonfiction
  • Children Writing Grief
    from The Southern Review

    If it is true, as Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, that “Childhood is the kingdom where no one dies that matters,” then for many of my students, the kingdom was vanquished early on....

  • The Stranger at the Window
    from Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction

    ... “Here’s your first assignment,” says the hospice coordinator, “if you want to take it. White male, seventy-four years old.... I see by your records that you’re okay with Alzheimer’s. Some volunteers won’t touch it.”…