Most Read in 2021

Year-End Lists!

We don’t publish a lot of lists. But this year, having launched this new website with nearly complete access to 30 years of magazine archives, we thought it seemed like a good time to look back at the stories that resonated with our readers. 

In that spirit, we’ve compiled the most-read pieces published on our website in 2021, as well as the most-read work from our archives. 

And for good measure, we’ve pulled together a few pieces worth an honorable mention; our favorite Sunday Short Reads; CNF content that was republished elsewhere; and the best advice, inspiration, and think pieces from some of our favorite publications.

Finally, if you enjoy what follows, please know there’s plenty more! We have a soft paywall on our site, which allows for three free reads a month. To get unlimited access for as little as $4/month, simply subscribe today.

Top 10 Published in 2021

  1. Almost Behind Us
    A dental emergency interrupts a meaningful anniversary // JENNIFER BOWERING DELISLE
  2. El Valle, 1991
    An early lesson in strength and fragility // AURELIA KESSLER
  3. Stay at Home
    All those hours alone with a new baby can be rough // JARED HANKS
  4. The Desert Was His Home
    There are many things we don’t know about Mr. Otomatsu Wada, and a few things we do // ERIC L. MULLER
  5. Just a Big Cat
    The dramatic boredom of jury duty // ERICA GOSS
  6. What Will We Do for Fun Now?
    Her parents survived World War II and the Blitz just fine … didn’t they? // JANE RATCLIFFE
  7. Harriet
    Two brothers and a turtle // TYLER McANDREW
  8. Rango
    Getting existential at a funeral for a lizard  // JARRETT G. ZIEMER
  9. Mouse
    Lessons from a hamster emergency // BEVERLY PETRAVICIUS
  10. Roxy & the Worm Box
    Trying to recapture a childhood love of dirt // ANJOLI ROY

Top 5 from the Archive

  1. Picturing the Personal Essay
    A visual guide // TIM BASCOM
  2. The 5 Rs of Creative Nonfiction
    The essayist at work  // LEE GUTKIND
  3. The Line Between Fact & Fiction
    Do not add, and do not deceive // ROY PETER CLARK
  4. The Braided Essay as Social Justice Action
    The braided essay may be the most effective form for our times // NICOLE WALKER
  5. On Fame, Success, and Writing Like a Mother#^@%*&
    An interview with Cheryl Strayed  // ELISSA BASSIST

Honorable Mention (ICYMI Essays)

  1. Latinx Heritage Month
    Who do you complain to when it’s HR you have a problem with? // MELISSA LUJAN MESKU
  2. Women’s Work
    Sometimes, freedom means choosing your obligations // EILEEN GARVIN
  3. Bloodlines and Bitter Syrup
    Avoiding prison in Huntsville, Texas, is nearly impossible // WILL BRIDGES
  4. Stealth
    A nontraditional couple struggles with keeping part of their life together private while undertaking the public act of filing for marriage // HEATHER OSTERMAN-DAVIS
  5. Something Like Vertigo
    An environmental writer sees parallels between her father’s declining equilibrium and a world turned upside down  // ELIZABETH RUSH

Our favorite Sunday Short Reads from our partners 


  1. What Joy Looks Like
    SSR #128  // DORIAN FOX
  2. How to Do Nothing


  1. At 86, My Grandmother Regrets Two Things
    SSR #134 // DIANA XIN
  2. The Seedy Corner


  1. Waste Not
  2. This Is Orange


  1. The Pilgrim’s Prescription
  2. Leaves in the Hall
    SSR #160 // ANNE GUDGER

Our favorite stories from around the internet. 

Advice & Inspiration

  1. In Praise of the Meander
    Rebecca Solnit on letting nonfiction narrative find its own way (via Lit Hub)
  2. What’s Missing Here? A Fragmentary, Lyric Essay About Fragmentary, Lyric Essays
    Julie Marie Wade on the mode that never quite feels finished (via Lit Hub)
  3. Getting Honest about Om
    A brief essay on audience (via Brevity)
  4. Using the Personal to Write the Global
    Intimate details, personal exploration and respect for facts (via Nieman Storyboard)
  5. Fix Your Scene Shapes
    And quickly improve your manuscript (via Jane Friedman’s blog)

The State of Nonfiction

  1. What the NYT ‘Guest Essay’ Means for the Future of Creative Nonfiction
    Description (via Brevity)
  2. How the Role of Personal Expression and Experience Is Changing Journalism
    On the future of the newsroom (via Poynter)
  3. 50 Shades of Nuance in a Polarized World
    An essayist ponders when to write black-and-white polemics that attract clicks, and when to be more considered (via Nieman Storyboard)
  4. These Literary Memoirs Take a Different Tack
    Description (via NY Times)
  5. The Politics of Gatekeeping
    On reconsidering the ethics of blind submissions (via Poets & Writers)