The Shell Game

The Shell Game

Writers Play with Borrowed Forms

Edited and with an introduction by Kim Adrian
Foreword by Brenda Miller
Postscript by Cheyenne Nimes

276 pages
3 illustrations


April 2018


$24.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Within the recent explosion of creative nonfiction, a new type of form is quietly emerging, what Brenda Miller calls “hermit crab essays.” The Shell Game is an anthology of these intriguing essays that borrow their structures from ordinary, everyday sources: a recipe, a crossword puzzle, a Craig’s List ad. Like their zoological namesake, these essays do not simply wear their borrowed “shells” but inhabit them so perfectly that the borrowed structures are wholly integral rather than contrived, both shaping the work and illuminating and exemplifying its subject.

The Shell Game contains a carefully chosen selection of beautifully written, thought-provoking hybrid essays tackling a broad range of subjects, including the secrets of the human genome, the intractable pain of growing up black in America, and the gorgeous glow residing at the edges of the autism spectrum. Surprising, delightful, and lyric, these essays are destined to become classics of this new and increasingly popular hybrid form. 

Author Bio

Kim Adrian is a Boston-based creative writer and a visiting lecturer of nonfiction writing at Brown University. She is the author of Sock, part of the Object Lesson series, and the forthcoming memoir The Twenty-Seventh Letter of the Alphabet (Nebraska, 2018). Adrian is the recipient of a Bread Loaf scholarship, a PEN/New England Discovery Award, and an artist’s grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Brenda Miller directs the MFA in Creative Writing and the MA in English Studies at Western Washington University. Cheyenne Nimes is a cross-genre writer currently working on poetry/nonfiction hybrids on the nature of evil and Jonestown. She won the Edwin Ford Piper Scholar Award and was a University of Iowa Art Museum resident writer.


“Daring, innovative, and mind-bending, this anthology showcases the best of what is arguably the most exciting new thing on the literary landscape today: the borrowed form essay.”—Kathy Fish, coauthor of Rift and author of Wild Life

“Virginia Woolf asked of the essay ‘simply that it should give pleasure.’ The Shell Game fulfills this request, even exceeds it, bringing startling diversity of subject, voice, and form. Each essay is a new surprise, a prettier shell than ordinary, demonstrating astonishing originality in mimicry and providing, for this reader at least, pure joy.”—Patrick Madden, author of Sublime Physick and Quotidiana

Table of Contents

Foreword: Discovering the Hermit Crab Essay
Brenda Miller
Introduction: A Natural History of the North American Hermit Crab Essay
Kim Adrian
Grand Theft Auto
Joey Franklin
Ok, Cupid
Sarah McColl
Rubik’s Cube, Six Twisted Paragraphs
Kathryn A. Kopple
Solving My Way to Grandma
Laurie Easter
Genome Tome
Priscilla Long
As Is
Brian Oliu
Falling in Love with a Glass House: Twenty-Four Views of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House
Jennifer Metsker
Son of Mr. Green Jeans: An Essay on Fatherhood, Alphabetically Arranged
Dinty W. Moore
Snakes & Ladders
Anushka Jasraj
Math 1619
Gwendolyn Wallace
Mary Peelen
We Regret to Inform You
Brenda Miller
The Six Answers on the Back of a Trivia Card
Caitlin Horrocks
Piecing the Quilt of Valor
Judith Sornberger
Self-Portrait as a 1970s Cineplex Movie Theatre (an Abecedarian)
Steve Fellner
The Forgetting Test
Lee Upton
Ingrid Jendrzejewski
Cheyenne Nimes
The Body (an Excerpt)
Jenny Boully
Questionnaire for My Grandfather
Kim Adrian
The Petoskey Catechism, 1958
Elizabeth Kerlikowske
What Signifies (Three Parables)
David Shields
The Marriage License
Judy Bolton-Fasman
The Heart as a Torn Muscle
Randon Billings Noble
The Spectrum (of Miracles and Mysteries)
Steve Edwards
“Easy as Pie,” That’s a Lie
Amy Wallen
Outline toward a Theory of the Mine versus the Mind and the Harvard Outline
Ander Monson
The Clockwise Detorsion of Snails: A Love Essay in Sectors
Karen Hays
Postscript: Forms on the Page
Cheyenne Nimes
Source Acknowledgments
Contributor’s Note
Michael Martone 

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