From Substack to print, here's why they're back


As a society, we’re no strangers to expressing ourselves. Social media is full of opinions, thoughts and feelings and, more than ever, it’s easy to get trapped in algorithms and trending conversations. So, where can we go to escape the noise, develop our own opinions and hear a range of different voices? Recently, the answer can be found in the resurgence of the personal essay. And these, increasingly, can be found on newsletter platforms like Substack.

Ever since Virginia Woolf published her ground-breaking work, ‘A Room of One’s Own’, the personal essay has been a way for writers to express their inner-most thoughts in an intimate and conversational way. Ranging from a couple of sentences to pages of prose, there are no rules. Besides, of course, that it has something to say.  

And having something to say is a lot less complicated than you might expect. Whilst contemporary personal essays steer clear of ultra-personal oversharing (the kind that drew the most attention in the mid-2000s) they are still defined by their individualism. The personal essay has resurged as a medium of unrestricted female expression – a place where women can explore anything from birth control to defining childhood memories. Now, in 2024, their appeal is greater than ever.

But, why are we turning to personal essays and Substack newsletters? It’s hard to pinpoint a single reason for their recent surge in popularity, but, we can partially attribute it to an increased appreciation of – and desire to hear from – intersectional voices. Platforms like Substack allow unfiltered self-publication. They now more readily hold a mirror to the myriad of sexuality, races, genders, abilities and lived experiences of today. And so, receiving content from your favourite writers direct to your inbox has never been easier.

Consequently, readers turn to personal essays and personal newsletters as an outlet. In a world of increasingly random online content, they allow us to take an educated forage into absorbing, well thought-out topics. Reading them is like having a long and thought-provoking conversation with a wise friend.  And, who doesn’t love those?



Woven, Lidia Yuknavitch
The Stars Are Blind, Anna Dorn
Thanksgiving in Mongolia, Ariel Levy

We asked author Ellena Savage to write a personal essay exclusively for us on the theme of A Moment in Hush. Here is her essay, ''The Mall'.


One place I could always go as a teenager to evade my parents’ surveillance was the mall. It was a place of sparkling, hedonistic freedom.

On a Saturday morning, someone’s parent would drop a carload of us girls at the mall, and for the next four hours, we’d wander the arcade with not much money and no real aim, traipsing from shop to shop, browsing the sale racks and fingering the cheap earrings that would irritate our pierced ears if we ever bought them.

If I’d received some sort of allowance, I’d buy myself a mascara, a lip balm, some bangles, or a magazine. But for the most part, I was there for the same reason everyone else was: to drink tall, sugary drinks and observe the social patterns of the larger space. We were there for the spectacle of public life. Would someone we knew—finally—get into a fight? Would we witness someone’s older sister kiss a boy from another school? Had anyone heard what happened to the girl who’d been caught shoplifting an eyeliner?

To go to the mall was to learn ways of fashioning ourselves within a wider set of relations. We were learning how to dress, how to walk, how to hold our phone and wallet in one hand, and a strawberry Frappuccino in the other. We were learning the social codes that held people together and set them apart. (And, troublingly, we were also learning how to consume in ways that were neither financially responsible, nor particularly environmentally conscious.)

But at some point in early adolescence, I tired of the mall. I began to desire another place, and I decided to find my way into the city. So on Saturday mornings, instead of getting rides to the mall, I began taking the train downtown, where I wove between second-hand bookshops, free galleries, and student cafes.

I invited older kids I met from other schools to meet me in the city ‘for a coffee’—a ritual I’d learned by observing adults. Though coffee tasted bitter to me, and it made my hands tremble, it worked to create an image of myself I was building: a girl who was liberated from suburbia. Alongside the coffee was black tights, pretentious conversations, and even a little beret. I had moved far, far from the mall, I seemed to insist, and in doing so, claimed my place in the city. I imagined that this would take me towards the life I desired.

But now I’m in my mid-thirties, I find myself at the other end of that expanding catalogue of possibilities. I’ve made my choices, and I’ve made my life. In some ways, I am the older version of the girl in the beret, insisting on her place in the dense, dirty city. I love this life, and wouldn’t want it otherwise.

And yet, when I am worn out from a fitful sleep, or I am filled with dread about my deadlines, I leave my flat in order to take a moment for myself. Often, on my wanderings, I find myself stepping into a glossy mall.

Under the gleaming lights, I return to a former self: I buy a large, sweet drink, and begin wandering from shop to shop, looking over the sale racks. I spray myself with perfume testers, and ask for samples of hand cream. I look at handbags I will not buy, and try on dresses suited to another woman’s life.

Instantly, my troubles dissolve into the adolescent delight of consumer splendour: the delight of imagining a different life by draping myself in garments made for someone other than me. If I am feeling flush, I buy myself a mascara, a lip balm, some bangles, or a magazine.

Read more from Ellena in her collection of personal essays, Blueberries, out now.