Writing

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist and the author of the collection Be with Me Always.

She graduated with an MFA from NYU in 2001 and her work has been listed as Notable in The Best American Essays, nominated for Pushcart Prizes, and appeared in places like BrevityCreative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, Georgia Review, The Rumpus, and the Modern Love column of The New York Times. She has been awarded residencies at The Millay Colony, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Hambidge, and the Vermont Studio Center as well as grants from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation and the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

She is currently editing A Harp in the Stars, an anthology of lyric essays, and working on her next book, Shade and Shadow.  Both are forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press.


Be with Me Always: Essays

Be with Me Always cover FINAL

Be with Me Always was published by the University of Nebraska Press on 1 March 2019. You can purchase it here:

University of Nebraska Press

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About the book

“Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you,” Heathcliff begs his dead Cathy in Wuthering Heights. He wants to be haunted—he insists on it. Randon Billings Noble does too. Instead of exorcising the ghosts of her past, she hopes for their cold hands to knock at the window, hopes for them to linger. Be with Me Always is a collection of essays that explore hauntedness, not through conventional ghost stories but by considering the way the ghosts of our pasts cling to our imaginations.

In a way, all good essays are about the things that haunt us, that get under our skin and into our minds and won’t leave until we have at least in some small way embraced or understood them. Here, Noble considers the ways she has been haunted—by a near-death experience, the gaze of a nude model, thoughts of widowhood, Anne Boleyn’s violent death, a book she can’t stop reading, a past lover who shadows her thoughts—in essays both pleasant and bitter, traditional and lyrical, but always evocative and unforgettable.

Advanced praise

“In her brilliant collection Be with Me Always, Randon Billings Noble explores the frailty of romance, of the human body, and of us all, with startling honesty, admirable ingenuity, genuine insight, and, always, with energy and surprise.”—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire
 
“A marvel. These essays are lyrical and innovative … Dracula is a guide to a first love, Robinson Crusoe carries her through pregnancy with twins, Terry Tempest Williams helps her survive a cancer diagnosis, and E. M. Forster and Facebook help her manage the strange faces at her high school reunion. I admire Noble and her essays very much.”—Ned Stuckey-French, author of The American Essay in the American Century
 
“How does a body want? How does a body know? And in wanting and in knowing, why does a body refrain from solidifying desire and knowledge? These are the questions that Randon Billings Noble asks in her essays, which cut so deep into the body.”—Jenny Boully, author of Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life
 

Reviews

“Noble has a focused, tight style, often employing the technique of looking at somewhat discrete items (or memories) and seeking connections among them … Unique eyes look at familiar things and somehow make them seem both odder and more familiar.”—Kirkus

“Stylistically, her essays experiment beautifully with space and sparseness. They often work to create a mood and feel as though they would sound best echoing off the walls of an art gallery or whispered in the dark corners of Jamaica Inn. Noble is a virtuoso in the art of gorgeous sentences … Be with Me Always has much to teach its readers about longing, experimental writing, and the fruits of reading extensively. This collection is sure to be taught in writing classes far and wide. Noble teaches us the truths of the flaneur, to be a good outsider and essayist: It is important to watch and to try, to think and to create.”—Punctuate

“Randon Billings Noble’s Be With Me Always is a tender, graceful collection of essays from a writer whose mission seems clear. Who are we within the context of our desires and longings? How do we function within bodies that are regularly changing? … Reading these essays is tantamount to dancing between lines of longing, looking without seeing, constructing and deconstructing our very essence, and understanding that nothing is really ever as it seems unless and until we see it again, with a fresher and sharper perspective … Be With Me Always works its magic in profound, subtle, seamless ways. The meticulous craftsmanship in the construction of these essays is equally matched by Noble’s beautiful, confident, assured vision.”—Pop Matters

 “Each memory is treated with equal care and caution in Be With Me Always; Noble does not assume a single one will land on her easily, no matter how seemingly simple. For writers who often begin a sentence only to stop themselves and say: is this important enough? is this loud enough? reading Noble’s work might feel like a personal love letter—like a book that gives you permission.” —Barrelhouse

“Noble gives us essays that elevate the rawness of real life with an overarching theme of hauntedness. From hard choices to characters in classic literature, from a near-death experience to past lovers, she has written a book that appeals to readers of both modern pop culture magazines and Emily Brontë.”—Washington City Paper

“Noble powerfully reminds us that hauntings spring from the same desire that propels enduring essays, the desire to live an examined life.”—Brevity 

The essay, a peek into the nonfictionist’s internal life, is likewise a stay against loneliness, and, to that end, Noble and her collection are fascinating companions indeed … Be with Me Always is a singular addition to women’s nonfiction.”—River Teeth

“The essays in Randon Billings Noble’s dazzlingly honest debut collection explore the varied hauntings that linger through the years and even centuries of human action … They oscillate between fear and fascination with the roads not taken, the selves denied … Noble’s powerful debut invites us to make sense of our own wreckage.  She asks what trails in our own wake and urges us to find opportunity to weave a patchwork self of lived and imaged experiences …”—Mid-American Review, Volume XXXIX, Number 2 (print only)

“This collection of essays is evocative of a ghost story and mystery in one. The essays make us aware of things around us (mirrors, birdsong, paintings, shell casings) or things inside us (grief, nostalgia, vanity, desire) that we didn’t see before but suddenly beckon us … [Noble] bring[s] us to the cusps of danger, and clarity, silence, betrayal and death, then return[s] us to ourselves with insight each time.”—Sweet: A Literary Confection

Be with Me Always features a range of different types of essays: prose poetry, hermit crab essays, object essays, literary criticism, essays in list form, collage, braided essays, and more. By choosing forms that alternately illuminate, distort, or complicate the subject matter, the forms often speak to the reader as much as Noble’s actual narratives do … Overall, Be with Me Always is a collection of essays that longs for the known and unknown—a search through biologies and histories and literature for the ghosts that continue to haunt many of us, the ghosts that become unexpectedly sacred in the formation of her life and our own.”—Kenyon Review


Devotional

Devotional, a lyric essay chapbook, was published by Red Bird Chapbooks in 2017.  You can order it here.

Devotional front cover

“This brilliantly decorated star fold book opens to expose a simple beauty and the experience of longing in a series of personal devotions, its brevity and contemplative prose evocative of a medieval Book of Hours.  Each section of Devotional calls an image to the page in a language that is rich and full – a hand, a pine, storm clouds, swallowtails; within the structure of eight short hours, the reader is gifted with an increased awareness of the nature of the everyday world and the self through this small, meditative text.”

News and reviews

Devotional was reviewed as part of “Chucking Hail Marys from the Throw Line: On Failing to Define the CNF Chapbook” by Penny Guisinger in River Teeth.

Featured as part of “A Walking Tour of the Poets House Library” by Amanda Glassman, Devotional was on display at Poets House during the summer of 2018 and is now part of their library:

Devotional in Poets House


Selected essays:

“Assemblage,” Creative Nonfiction, Issue 66 (Spring 2018), print only. 

“A Story We Tell Ourselves and Others,” a review essay, Required Reading, Creative Nonfiction, Issue 59 (May 2016)

“Many Ways of Seeing, Many Ways of Saying,” a review essay, Fourth Genre, 17.1 (April 2015), print only

“The Heart as a Torn Muscle,” Brevity, Issue 48 (January 2015)

“Behind the Caves” at The Rumpus (16 September 2014)

“Bye-Bye Brain,” Sweet: A Literary Confection, Issue 5.3.  Graphic nonfiction. 

“The Split,” Passages North, Volume 31.1 (Winter/Spring 2009/2010)

“War Weary from a Dangerous Liaison,” Modern Love, Sunday Styles, The New York Times (16 November 2008)


Selected craft essays: 

“The Sitting,” Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, Issue 6.1 (September 2019)

“In Defense of Themelessness,” Brevity, Issue 61 (May 2019)

“(Re)using Found Forms: The Hermit Crab Essay,” True — a blog run by Proximity Quarterly (January 2018)

“On Keeping a (Writing) Notebook (or Three),” Brevity, Issue 51 (January 2016)


Selected reviews:

Reviews for The A.V. Club (of Against Memoir, Flâneuse, LaRose, Fates and Furies, The Argonauts, and more) can be found here (March 2015 – present)

“A Review of David Carlin and Nicole Walker’s The After-Normal,” Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog (17 July 2020)

“What to Read When You’re Haunted,” The Rumpus (4 October 2019)

“A Review of Jenny Boully’s Betwixt-and-Between: Essays on the Writing Life,” Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog (8 October 2018)

“Before We’re Writers, We’re Readers,” Required Reading, Creative Nonfiction (Summer 2016)

“A Story We Tell Ourselves and Others,” a review essay, Required Reading, Creative Nonfiction (Spring 2016)

“How to Fix Your Life: An Autumn Reading List: Woolfian Resolutions for ‘October, the dawn of the year,'” a review essay at Literary Hub (6 October 2015)

“Accidental Notes on the Syllabus,” a graphic review of Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor, Los Angeles Review of Books (21 February 2015)

“Three Books to Get Over an Affair,” The Millions (27 August 2014)

Review of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin in The Georgia Review (Spring 2014)

Review of Leaving Resurrection: Chronicles of a Whale Scientist, As It Ought to Be (13 January 2014)