Writing as a Doorway to the Unknown

May 30, 2022 § 1 Comment

In our May issue, Degan Davis uses uses the words of Dante, Mark Doty, Rebecca Solnit, Bret Lott, Sue William Silverman, and other outstanding writers to explore “how to keep our eyes open in the darkness of our writing process.”

Davis writes:

Dante’s often-quoted beginning of the Divine Comedy has the narrator arriving at a dark wood, unsure of which way to turn. To many writers and artists, Dante’s predicament is a familiar, disquieting, and essential starting place. Leonard Cohen wrote, “I write to reveal not what I know, but what I don’t know.” And of an artist’s profession in general he said, “You’re married to a mystery. It’s not a particularly generous mystery…” In other words, a writer has to enter into the dark, the unknown, to see if their path leads to art.

You can read the full discussion of how we “enter into the dark, the unknown” in our writing in Brevity’s Craft Section.

Acquiring Empathy through the Essay

October 28, 2013 § 1 Comment

calling manBrevity contributor William Bradley has written a truly perfect tribute to the power of the personal essay to promote empathy. The fact that he mentions other former Brevity authors and cites Debra Marquart’s powerful essay from our May 2008 issue is just icing on the excellent cake.  A link to the full essay after the excerpt:

It’s impossible for us to live the lives of others, of course, but essays give us a record of someone else’s consciousness—the act of reading these essays and interacting with these minds on the page is the closest thing we have to telepathy in the real world. Part of the reason why I care so much about issues pertaining to racial justice is that reading James Baldwin’s experiences and thoughts in “Notes of a Native Son” and “Stranger in the Village” made the issue vividly real. These issues were personal for Baldwin, and thus became personal for me as a result of reading Baldwin. It’s likewise impossible to believe in homophobic caricatures of gay men’s predatory sexuality after reading an account of growing up gay as sensitive and affecting as Bernard Cooper’s “A Clack of Tiny Sparks.”  The idea that women who have abortions are by nature selfish or unreflective is belied by essays like Debra Marquart’s “Some Things About That Day.” Similarly, unlike some of my liberal humanist friends, I know from reading David Griffith’s reflections on his Catholic faith in his essay collection A Good War is Hard to Find or Patrick Madden’s discussions on his own Mormon faith in his collection Quotidiana that there is nothing inherently reactionary or intolerant about subscribing to a religious faith.

The full essay can be read at Utne Reader.

Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone

December 6, 2012 § 1 Comment

James_Baldwin_1167309552122863In honor of the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of James Baldwin’s death, Hunger Mountain has posted a number of thoughtful and valuable essays celebrating his life and writings.  Included are Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone: A Letter to James Baldwin on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of His Passing by Kim Dana Kupperman, Baldwin in Omaha by Robert Vivian, Another Country: James Baldwin at ‘Home’ (and) Abroad by Sion Dayson, James Baldwin, Flannery O’Connor, and the Ethics of Anguish by Carole K. Harris, and a four-part “Conversational Review” with Marita Golden, Baron Wormser, Liz Blood, and John Proctor


Consider the Fourth State of the White Album

October 12, 2012 § 2 Comments

Robert Atwan has assembled a list of the top ten essays since 1950 for Publisher’s Weekly to mark the release of The Best American Essays 2012.  Is it exactly the list we would have assembled? No, because we would have picked seven Brevity essays and then Baldwin, Didion, and perhaps Lopate, but that’s just hometown pride. In truth, Atwan has done a remarkable job, and the list is a great place to start a discussion, or even a class.

In addition to the useful list, Atwan gives us a brief explanation of why the essays matters. Here he is on Baldwin, followed by a link to the entire article:

James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son” (originally appeared in Harper’s, 1955)

“I had never thought of myself as an essayist,” wrote James Baldwin, who was finishing his novel Giovanni’s Room while he worked on what would become one of the great American essays. Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American. Some today may question the relevance of the essay in our brave new “post-racial” world, though Baldwin considered the essay still relevant in 1984 and, had he lived to see it, the election of Barak Obama may not have changed his mind. However you view the racial politics, the prose is undeniably hypnotic, beautifully modulated and yet full of urgency. Langston Hughes nailed it when he described Baldwin’s “illuminating intensity.” The essay was collected in Notes of a Native Son courageously (at the time) published by Beacon Press in 1955.

Atwan’s Full Top Ten List.

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