July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
The New Yorker has made all of its archives going back to 2007 available online at no cost until the end of this summer, and Buzzfeed has assembled a cool list of 14 “Fantastic (Fiction) Stories You Should Read from the Archive.“
We are headed out of town (excuses, excuses) so can’t slap together the Fantastic Nonfiction version of the list just now, but if anyone wants to put together a list of his or her own favorite nonfiction works in the New Yorker archive, we promise to feature it here.
Send to brevitymag(at symbol)gmail.com along with your bio note.
July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
Suppose you wanted to win a nonfiction book prize, not the attractive but obscure medal awarded by your local Rotary Club but something more illustrious. A Pulitzer, let’s say. And let’s also say you’ve already written a pretty good book, even a great one. What else might you do to improve your odds?
First, you could relocate to that stretch of the East Coast between Washington, D.C., and Boston, Massachusetts. If possible, you’ll hang your hat in one of the regional metropolises, extra points for New York City, likewise for landing a job at a prominent newspaper or magazine, though if your leanings are more academic, similar advantages can be gained by joining the faculty of an Ivy League college. After that, things get tricky. For example, it’ll help, a lot, if you’re a white American, though I suspect you need to be born that way. Similarly, if you have a superfluous X chromosome, you’ll want to exchange it for a Y, or at least display the expected phenotypic traits. These are not uncomplicated strategies, though neither is writing a great book.
Of course, prize juries do not pluck winners and finalists from the literary wilds simply because a writer happens to be white or male or occupy a rent-controlled walk-up in the East Village. And yet there is something about these characteristics that radically affect one’s odds of being plucked, at least for the awards we examined: the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, the National Book Award (NBA) for Nonfiction, and the National Book Critics Circle Award (NBCC) for General Nonfiction ..
July 22, 2014 § 4 Comments
How does our willingness to “get naked” on the page form our voice, and how does voice hide our nakedness? What’s more naked: writing fiction and baring all, or using one’s life as fact but perhaps more judiciously?
Dinah Lenney’s craft essay “Not-Quite-Naked” is part of a series at TriQuarterly. Ms. Lenney, the author of Bigger Than Life: A Murder, a Memoir and most recently The Object Parade, writes:
Here comes that confession (she starts to disrobe): first, as with acting, I don’t write to disappear, but rather to locate myself. But wait—which self am I talking about? What a stunner to discover—to have to admit—I am not only or even essentially the mother, the wife, the teacher, the student, the neighbor, the friend, the actor, the writer—even as I have tended to write firsthand accounts out of those relationships and situations. But wait again: Don’t fiction writers use first-person narration? Don’t they break the fourth wall? But they’re writing in character, yes? As if I’m not? Of course I am. Does it make a difference—does it say anything about my state of undress that I’m telling you so? I’m certain it does.
July 21, 2014 § 3 Comments
Thriving indie journal Hippocampus announces their fourth annual Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction. Entry fee is $10 and judging is blind. There’s a $500 prize for the winner and smaller cash prizes for runner-up, honorable mention and reader’s choice, as well as some literary swag to the Participation Award winner.
(You know, when I hear Participation Award, I want to go back in time to Field Day, strap on my soup-can stilts and awkwardly stomp my way across the elementary school playground into eleventh place. I’m pretty sure my mom still has that ribbon. Thanks for the memory, Hippocampus!)
July 17, 2014 § 3 Comments
Back in 2011, Flavorwire’s Kathleen Massara sifted through
…innumerable notable essays written between 1961 and today. However, even though it’s a crazy idea to attempt to make a top ten list of the pieces that shaped the era, that’s what we do…
Inspired by the University of Iowa’s Essay Prize, Ms. Massara sought out ten essays she thought “best exemplifie[d] the art of essaying — inquiry, experimentation, discovery, and change.” Included are some legends and some more obscure. And yes, Céline Dion made the list.
Check out the list here. (Some of the links lead to online reads, others to sale pages for books featuring the essays.)
What’s your best essays list? Five Essays That Should Be Famous? Seven Essays That Changed the Author’s Life? Ten Best Essays Under 1000 Words?
Create a category and make your case, then email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll choose a list or two to feature here on the Brevity blog.
July 15, 2014 § 2 Comments
By Debbie Hagan
Mother is gone. One day I’ll pick up the phone and hear one of my sisters saying these words. Mom’s eighty-one now, and though she’s in relatively good health—survived two bouts of cancer—I know her life can’t go on forever. Mother tries to prepare me. She discusses her bank accounts, goes through her list of keepsakes, and asks me to help her order a tombstone.
I’m stoic. Every time I lift this veil, gaze at what life will be like after Mother, I see darkness.
So Adriana Páramo’s memoir, My Mother’s Funeral, not only goes to a place I’m reluctant to go, but opens with the dreaded call. “I collapsed in slow motion,” she writes about hearing the news. “My body trickled down a wall until my chin touched my knees. I thought about Mom’s face, but couldn’t see it. I could see her eyes but not her nose, her lips but not her neck. The rest of her was in bits and pieces. Her winter hands, her velvety ears, her porcelain left knee, her night hair. Mom was fragmented now. She used to be whole.”
Páramo shares her shock and grief with such honesty and originality that one can’t help but read on. These elegant, interwoven essays crisscross over time—showing her mother’s innocence and desperation, eloping with a man who’d only bring her disappointment, going forward to Páramo’s childhood and rebelliousness.
Carmen, Páramo’s mother, suspects on her wedding night she has made a dreadful mistake. Her husband leads her to a shabby brothel with stained sheets where he takes her virginity. Carmen’s dreams end as she discovers the man she loves is not as attractive as she thought, in addition to being alcoholic, crude, and unfaithful. After the birth of their sixth child, her husband takes off without a word for twenty years, leaving the family penniless. Carmen copes making soup out of bones, guiding her children so they grow with love, self-respect and independence.
She strives most to protect her daughters from mistakes she made—knowing that men and sex can result in dead-end traps. Thus, Carmen obsesses about her girls’ virginity. However, Páramo is as high-spirited and independent as her mother. One night, when she’s just thirteen, she goes on a bike ride with a boy from school. They kiss, but that’s all. He smokes marijuana, and they both end up high and asleep. Páramo wakes up to realize she’s missed her curfew. To avoid her mother’s scorn, she steps in front of a motor scooter, hoping to land in the hospital. At least she’d have an excuse for being so late. There’s a collision, but no injuries. She makes up a story about being kidnapped. Horrified, Carmen takes the girl, the next morning, for a pelvic exam, which proves she’s still “in tact.” Carmen rewards the girl with the “pixie cut” she has long wanted.
That night, Páramo looks hard at her mother. “Late forties, dark half-moons under her sad eyes, short gray hair, a permanent frown, dark unsmiling lips—a haggard woman with nothing to show for a lifetime of diapers, late-night colics, schools, unpaid bills, hunger, lies, loneliness,” she writes. “I walk to the couch and sit beside her. She puts her arm around me. For a while I sit rigidly, but then I feel like crying for her.”
When her mother asks her why, she replies, “I’m crying for you, Mamá.”
“That’s silly,” she says.
When Carmen dies, Páramo is living in Florida—a hemisphere away. Even so, she pictures her mother’s last night in Columbia—death as a vacuum that “sucked upward with a violent jerk as if an invisible parachute had opened above [Carmen’s] head.”
It takes her to “the place she loved most in the world, Mariquita…that smelled of avocado and earth after the rain.” Páramo tells her goodbye, believing her mother has returned to being Carmen—just Carmen—the girl with big dreams, love, and hope.
Debbie Hagan is editor-in-chief of Art New England and book reviews editor for Brevity. Her essays have appeared in Brain, Child, Flash, Don’t Take Pictures, and elsewhere.
July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments
Last week, Brevity observed a literary imbroglio and weighed in on both sides. But in literary nonfiction, there’s always one more point of view. T.A. Noonan, the author of the anonymous letter that touched off the debate, weighs in.
I’m T.A. Noonan, author of “An Open Letter to TriQuarterly.”
First of all, let me acknowledge that I wasn’t the first person to express dismay over “TriQuartergate.” By the time my letter appeared online, the conversation was well under way on Twitter and Facebook. I just wanted to add to it.
I chose anonymity because I’m a Sundress editor whose views were published on her press’s blog. I didn’t intend to speak for anyone but myself—certainly not my press. The post’s popularity, however, suggests that my letter echoed the betrayal felt by many writers.
Like Dinty W. Moore, I think I understand. And I’ll give the editors props for honesty, even if I wish they lied. In my perfect world, they would have admitted the mistake, closed general submissions, solicited work from those rejected unread, and worked their way through the backlog, reading every piece submitted. But that’s not what happened.
It’s reasonable to think that TriQuarterly will need to work hard to regain the literary community’s trust. Then again, they know all about that. Every time I read Edward Hirsch’s characterization of a web-based, student-run TriQuarterly as “vaporous,” I wince. There’s judgment there. Vaporous. Less-than. Not real. Not print. I can almost hear the commentary now: This never would have happened when it was print!
The question that haunts me isn’t “print vs. online” or “student-run vs. professional” but whether or not my imagined commentary—this never would have happened when it was print!—is true. If not, what are writers supposed to believe? We’re sustained by the notion that the selection process is fair and everyone gets a shot. Take that away, and what’s left for us?
Even more troubling, though, is if such a thing wouldn’t have happened at TriQuarterly back when it was print. What does that say about the ways that editors, authors, and readers evaluate literary journals? Do we really see online journals as vaporous?
Maybe I’m overthinking. It’s definitely unfair to ask TriQuarterly‘s editors to bear the responsibility of answering the questions I’ve posed above. (For the record, I do appreciate Adrienne Gunn’s thoughtful response.) Instead, all members of the literary community need to ask ourselves what we really value and how we demonstrate our valuation.
I keep coming back to one Facebook comment about my letter. The author critiqued my threat to not submit to TriQuarterly, wondering why I didn’t cancel my subscription and suggesting that I didn’t value TriQuarterly because I (probably) didn’t even subscribe. Let’s ignore the fact that they’ve been online and free since 2010 and explore the implications of that comment.
Is the act of financially supporting a journal more important than submitting or writing? What if one doesn’t have the means to financially support a journal? Are magazines published on shoestring budgets and/or supported exclusively by their editors less important than the ones that need subscriptions, fees, and donations to survive? What about journals whose institutions pour funds into them?
And, most importantly, what is the writer’s responsibility to the literary community vis-à-vis journals?
I can’t answer that for everyone, and neither can TriQuarterly. Instead, I’ll leave you with this observation: According to WordPress, my letter has been viewed over 4,000 times and shared almost 800 times. That’s more than anything I’ve ever published in print. That’s readership comparable to some of the biggest print journals out there.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
T.A. Noonan doesn’t hate TriQuarterly, its editors, or its authors but meant what she said in her letter. She is also not-so-secretly rooting for TriQuarterly to change her mind.