November 12, 2018 § 4 Comments
We are proud to announce our nominees for the 2018 Pushcart Prize anthology and Best American Essays. The choice wasn’t easy in any way, because we’ve once again been blessed with so many talented writers and outstanding essays, but we’ve narrowed it down and sent off our nomination packets to the editors of the Pushcart and BAE anthologies. You can read the nominated essays by following the links just below. Congratulations everyone, and thanks to everyone for sending us your stellar work.
Our 2018 Pushcart nominees:
Solving for X
by PAM DURBAN
Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet
by LANCE LARSEN
Women These Days
by AMY BUTCHER
The Farmers’ Almanac Best Days for Breeding
by JOHN A. MCDERMOTT
Ace of Spades
by JULIE MARIE WADE
by XUJUN EBERLEIN
Our 2018 Best American Essays nominees:
The six essays listed above, as well as:
by BEVERLY DONOFRIO
by FLEDA BROWN
What I Took
by HEATHER SELLERS
October 18, 2018 § 4 Comments
It is easy to hate Amazon, but they do sell a lot of books for us, don’t they?
Well maybe not. DeWitt Henry, founding editor of Ploughshares literary magazine, waited expectantly for his latest book to show up on the popular, monopolistic bookseller’s pages only to surf through two nights ago to encounter a rather peculiar surprise. He writes about it here:
For weeks I’ve been anticipating my launch on Amazon for SWEET MARJORAM: NOTES AND ESSAYS. The release date was 10-15, and I kept checking obsessively, but only found my earlier title, SWEET DREAMS. The night of 10-16, I typed in the product search, and there it was at last!
I called my wife away from CNN: “Hey, look at this!”
But when we clicked for the order page what came up was a large pic of the cover alongside ordering information for “Keaac Womens Chiffon Print Sleeveless Irregular Hem A Line Top Dress,” a maternity dress from China, available in “Small=China X-Large: Length:25.59″ (65cm), Bust:42.52″ (108cm); Medium=China 2X-Large: Length:25.98″ (66cm), Bust:44.09″ (112cm);” and other sizes that seemed nothing like the essay collection I have worked on for years.
Meanwhile the “real” book is available from www.MadHat-Press.com and I hope happy readers will spread the word and even leave reviews on Amazon.
October 12, 2018 § 5 Comments
by Jan Priddy
To understand how I wrote “A Murder of Crows,” my essay in Brevity‘s September 2018 issue, you must first understand why.
My husband and I feel a connection to crows, more as family than foreigners. About twenty-five years ago my husband came home from work with a baby crow in a paper sack. He had found “Elvis” beside his squashed brother on the shoulder of highway 101. Elvis was not yet fledged—that is, he had quills but not quite feathers and could not fly. His beak and legs were partly pink. His eyes were still blue. We rescued him but deliberately made no effort to tame him. Elvis lived in an enclosed garden for a few weeks. Local crows arrived to speak to him through the window. When he could fly, we let him go. Friends who rehabilitated birds in another state assured us that he would likely fare well as a juvenile, even re-released outside his original range. That proved true. For years we saw Elvis hanging with the local murder.
Since then I have read a good deal about ravens and crows. We talk to the crows during our beach walks, often engaging in lengthy exchanges of clicks and caws. When a raven pair moved into our community, we celebrated.
The story of the murder came from our eldest son who had attended and then worked as a counselor in a local children’s camp. One of his last summers, perhaps even the last, he came home from the first week with a terrible story.
So why use the form of a fable to recount this true event? I have taught fables as a narrative form. I once began my school year with “Blue Donkey Fable” by Suniti Namjoshi. Fables teach lessons. The boy who cried wolf. Fox’s sour grapes. Animals are often used as characters because they come prepackaged with known personalities and powers in the same way King might be a character or Farmer or Cook. Fables are told in past tense and third person. They are short. They are “once upon a time” and never intended to be believed as literally true. The author is not an actor in the story.
Since I always write the assignments I give my students, I have several conventional fables with crow characters. A crow plays with an abandoned garden glove. A young crow refuses to take practical advice from her elders. Each of my crow fables ends with a stated moral.
One wrinkle I add to my students’ assignment is to require revision to a different verb tense and using a different point of view. I tell students this is a “sneaky writer’s trick,” which it is. Choosing another perspective, even in nonfiction, may reveal deeper understanding and detail, though here my purpose is to help students develop control of rhetoric.
My fable about the summer camp murder violates the rules of a fable because it is a story about violation. The fabulist voice distances that pain while direct address and present tense intrude on the narrative. I ask questions. I include scientific facts. It is not a general tale set anywhere, but a specific event set somewhere. It is not a conventional fable with a stated moral. It is not a koan meant to twirl around forever. But even my fable is intended to warn while pushing the creative nonfiction envelope.
I do not believe in being sentimental about animals, but this brutal reaction to an ordinary annoyance still shocks me. The story of hubris outlives the event.
The life expectancy of an American crow is only seven or eight years. Elvis is long gone by now, but for some time my husband would spot “our crow,” the only local bird with white on his flight feathers, perched overhead on a cable line. The bird and my husband would call to one another. Gary would announce when he came home for lunch, “I saw Elvis!”
Jan Priddy’s writing has earned an Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship, Arts & Letters fellowship, Pushcart nomination, MFA, and publication in journals such as CALYX, The Humanist, Liminal Stories, North American Review, and nonfiction anthologies on running and race. She is currently struggling with a utopian science fiction story in which nearly everyone dies. She loves birds.
October 11, 2018 § 4 Comments
by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood
I grew up in Yellow Springs, a village in Ohio, and I return to it several times throughout the year to see my parents and to be in a place I still love and that most feels like home to me. I live in a city now, not a very big one—population 65,000—but large compared to the town in which I grew up with a population of under 4,000.
You want to know what it’s like to grow up in that small of a town? One Saturday afternoon, many years ago, our German Shepherd, named Sable, jumped our picket fence and ran to the school grounds a block away, as there was a festival happening there, and my sister and I, likely early teens at the time, had gone to it. Because Yellow Springs is a small town, the news traveled fast to us. People recognized her as our dog, but they didn’t just tell us, “Your dog is loose.” We were told, “Sable’s on the hayride.” (And yes, she was.)
My high school graduating class had 69 students (and we had a big class), so at YSHS we didn’t just know everyone in our grade: we knew everyone a year below and a year above, and most of the students from two years below and two years above, and on and on. We only had so many people to know, and this made the business of knowing easier. Even today, I am always struck by the number of people I know and who know me when I go anywhere in Yellow Springs, even though I have not lived there for twenty years.
The piece, “Katy Perry Is Crooning and Won’t Stop Just Because I Did,” is about one day in my small town, a day when I was there a few months ago. On the morning of that day, while out and about in Yellow Springs, I talked to a villager (a person I have known for decades) who told me of the unexpected death of a man earlier that same morning, someone who is a few years younger than I am. This villager told me about the death of the person not just because it was sad and jarring—his being under fifty and, from outward appearances, in seemingly good health—but also because there was an assumption I would know him. And I did.
These are the kinds of assumptions you can make, though, in a small town. Later that same day, while I was taking a walk, I ran into the brother of the man who died. Only in a small town can you hear terrible news about a person and then a few hours later happen to run into the family bearing the weight of that news. Only in a small town can you also know the brother, even if you have not lived there for twenty years.
In my small town, I didn’t feel right about not saying anything, not stopping to offer my condolences to the brother. Perhaps I would have felt or acted differently had I been somewhere else. Perhaps the news might not have seemed as sad and awful had I not known who they were, had the news been that of complete strangers.
I realize I have used the words know, known, knowing so many times in trying to tell you how all of this began.
I started writing down snippets that night (more a listing of details) and then wrote the piece fully while in a coffee shop in downtown Yellow Springs. I was finishing up a full-length poetry manuscript the week of my visit, so this piece’s first incarnation was as a poem. The poem became an essay only after I decided to submit it to Brevity. I write very prose-like poems anyway, so all I needed to do was take out the line breaks. Oh, and I also had to change one detail—I had taken some creative license with the placement of the car since poems don’t have to adhere to the truth, but for this to be a creative nonfiction essay, the car needed to be where it actually was in “real life,” as they say.
I miss living in a small town. I miss my village. I miss knowing so many people and being known the way I am known there—not because I am famous but because I grew up there and have a history there, a history I am still building, even though I don’t live there anymore.
Shuly Xóchitl Cawood is the author of the memoir, The Going and Goodbye (Platypus Press). She has an MFA from Queens University, and her writing has been published in The Rumpus, Zone 3, Santa Clara Review, New Madrid Journal, and Cider Press Review, among others.
October 9, 2018 § 5 Comments
Jill Talbot and Marcia Aldrich discuss the release of their Longreads essay on the morning that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee:
Jill: When we submitted our collaborative essay, “Trouble,” to Longreads in early August, we included the following synopsis:
The essay details the trouble we ran toward during our adolescence (drinking, boys) and the trouble that found us both, including sexual assault. While we had different upbringings—Talbot attending public high school as the daughter of a football coach in Texas in the late 1980s and Aldrich attending a private school for girls in Pennsylvania in the late 1960s—we share a history of daring, of lost direction, of dark bedrooms. Jill begins the essay, and we alternate sections throughout to reflect on our wild behavior, its consequences, and our respective parents’ inability to control or contain us.
Marcia and I were delighted to receive an acceptance from senior editor Krista Stevens about a week later, but when we were asked to approve the preview in September, I grew anxious. Anxious about what I had divulged, anxious about the details that pinpointed a young man so clearly that anyone with an MHS yearbook could identify him, and anxious about describing my own reckless behavior. I wondered when the essay might run, feeling more and more a desire to run from it. And then on September 26th, Marcia and I received an e-mail from Stevens:
In light of the subject matter of the piece we want to get it out ahead of Ford’s testimony and so we’ll be publishing this tomorrow morning at 7:30 am Eastern.
Marcia: When we began our essay “Trouble,” we didn’t think about how it might participate in any specific event larger than our own personal lives. It was the second iteration of our collaborative essay writing experiment, undertaken after we completed our first essay on our mothers, and we wanted to continue the practice. “Trouble” seemed the natural next subject because it had defined and troubled both of our lives, haunted, one might say, and those are the kinds of subjects that we feel compelled to write about, that call us. Of course, I was aware of last year’s dramatic rise of the #MeToo movement although it didn’t explicitly influence me, at least I don’t think it did. I couldn’t talk about trouble without at long last resurrecting a few of the sexually disturbing experiences I had as a very young girl. Entering those experiences again was made more meaningful because I was doing it with Jill and not alone. I don’t want to say writing with Jill made it easier exactly, but it emboldened me, bolstered me.
Here’s an excerpt from the essay, from one of Marcia’s segments:
At some point he hauled me to my feet and got me back in the car and drove me to my house. I don’t remember any words between us. He didn’t get out of the car and help me to the door. He leaned across me, opened the car door and looked at me as if to say get out. Which I did. Somehow. And I walked up the flagstone path to the back porch, stumbled around looking for the key, and finally opened the door. It was way past my curfew and my father had been listening for my return. I can’t remember if he saw me or just spoke to me from behind his bedroom door. It’s hard to believe he could have set eyes on me and not known something wrong had happened.
And it’s hard to fathom what he made of my running a bath at 2:30 in the morning. But that’s what I did.
My mother never stirred.
Read the entire essay “Trouble.”
October 2, 2018 § Leave a comment
There’s nothing meek or mild in Gabe Montesanti’s evocation of being coached on a girls’ swim team, found in Brevity’s September 2018 issue.
Here’s an excerpt from Montesanti’s flash essay:
Coach decided months ago we should wear two suits. Then he decided we should all wear men’s trunks on top. Mine are black with red flames. “Good thing the boys think you’re pretty,” he tells me. “They don’t have to know how goddamn slow you were today. I could’ve gone down to the music store, gotten a piano, chucked it in the pool, and it would still kick your ass.”
Read the full essay in our new issue.
September 25, 2018 § Leave a comment
In this flash essay in Brevity’s September 2018 issue, Austyn Gaffney considers the risks taken in mountain-climbing and weighs how to balance independence and connection in love.
Here’s an excerpt from Gaffney’s essay:
Scrambling up a mountain peak never fails to crack me open. I become scared of slick stones and the vast space between the matter up here and the matter down there. Wind makes the whiskers around my temples stand on end. My knuckles are clouds when I peer over the edge into the Bow River Valley. I hunker beneath the windbreak of boulders, cradling my bowstring of a body while I chew on peanut butter and jelly, on freezer-burned chocolate, on how cold it is to sit up top alone.
Read the complete essay in our new issue.