11 Essays Every Millennial Should Read

In recent years, the essay form has experienced a revival, particularly among communities of women writers, but you don't have to buy a bunch of books to read great short- and long-form content. Many of the essays every Millennial should read are available for free online. If you have an hour or two to kill, dig into the 11 fantastic and informative reads on this list.

Millennial readers aren't the only ones who love the essay format. Young writers are diving into the literary world with collections of their very own. Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl is a prominent example, as is the late Marina Keegan's The Opposite of Loneliness, which was published posthumously.

Even if you think you hate essays, I recommend giving at least one or two a shot before you abandon the genre completely. The stories below aren't the kind of dry documents you churn out for your professors. They're poignant, funny, and inspiring. The best ones, you'll read again and again, whenever you need the unique pick-me-ups they offer. Others you might enjoy only once, but the information they provide will stick with you for years.

Check out my short list of 11 essays every Millennial should read, and share your favorites with me on Twitter.

1. "Make Good Art" by Neil Gaiman

In 2012, Neil Gaiman delivered the keynote address at the 134th commencement of The University of the Arts. That speech, "Make Good Art," is the perfect, succinct guide to living creatively and bouncing back from failure.

2. "Be Your Own Story" by Toni Morrison


Toni Morrison's 2004 commencement address at Wellesley College dispenses with the bromides and platitudes often offered to graduates. Instead, Morrison focuses on happiness, and the ways in which growing up is "an intensely hard won glory."

3. "Real Genius" by Chuck Klosterman

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Millennials often find themselves caught up in discussions about the relative worth of pop music. Is Kanye a genius or a hack? Is Jaden Smith terrible or terrifyingly amazing? Chuck Klosterman's tongue-in-cheek essay on Advancement Theory provides a useful framework for discussing the impeccably weird.

4. "Joy" by Zadie Smith

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Far from being the epitome of happiness, joy, for Zadie Smith, is a "strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight" that gets in the way of our day-to-day experiences, and should, perhaps, be limited. Millennials in pursuit of intense pleasure and happiness should take note.

5. "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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White Millennials might consider themselves less racist than previous generations, or even "post-racial," but polls collecting young white people's opinions on the black community tell a different story. That's why Ta-Nehisi Coates' painstakingly researched treatise on the African-American experience, "The Case for Reparations," is a must-read for the younger crowd.

6. "Bad Feminist" by Roxane Gay

If you have any ideas at all about what it means to be a feminist, and if those ideas are negative ones, you need this essay. Roxane Gay lays out the problems with essentialism in the feminist movement, debunks the myth that you must hate all the right things in order to be a good activist, and comes to the conclusion that she "would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all."

7. "On Police Brutality in America" by Victor "Kool A.D." Vazquez


Several years into Black Lives Matter, it can be difficult for folks who are just waking up to get up to speed on what's happening at the intersection of police brutality and institutional racism, what's wrong with it, and how to fix it. In his 2014 essay, "On Police Brutality in America," Kool A.D. offers a primer on why we need reform.

8. "1987 Tufts University Commencement Speech" by Gloria Steinem

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Thirty years after Gloria Steinem delivered her wonderful commencement speech to Tufts University's graduating class, it still rings true. Steinem reminds us that we need to live and fund social change, to be wary of holding onto cultural myths, and to always strive for the biggest things we want in life.

9. "Men Explain Things to Me" by Rebecca Solnit

The 2012 essay that gave rise to the term "mansplaining," Rebecca Solnit's "Men Explain Things to Me" is about so much more than smug guys with overgrown egos. Presented at the link above with an introduction from the author, Solnit's concise examination of the mansplaining trend reaches out to encompass all situations in which a woman is only credible if what she says is validated by a male witness. Required reading for young Millennials and anyone who needs to bolster her self-confidence.

10. "The Try-Hard Generation" by Fareed Zakaria

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Speaking of self-confidence, the next time someone tries to give you crap about being a Millennial, send them a link to Fareed Zakaria's "The Try-Hard Generation." Like Solnit's essay above, this is a must-read for anyone who finds herself wondering whether or not our generation is doomed.

11. "We Should All Be Feminists" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk-turned-book is, perhaps, the most condensed, well-thought-out argument for a universal feminism that will ever be written. It isn't long-winded, out-of-touch, or exclusionary. Even if you think Adichie will be preaching to the choir with you on this one, read it.

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