Wednesday Jun 19

Robert_Clark_Young Attempting to limit the number of selections for this year’s Connotation Press Retrospective in Creative Nonfiction was nearly a brain-shattering exercise. I wanted to honor all 54 writers whom I’d published in the past year—I selected their work, after all, because it was that great to begin with.

Whittling them down to the five best proved too big a sacrifice for me, so I soon had six essays, and then seven, and then eight, and then nine, and then ten, and finally stopped myself—very regretfully—at eleven.  I had to stop myself.  I was out of control.  I would have chosen all 54 writers if I hadn’t gotten a manful grip on my burgeoning aesthetics.

And so, I can only apologize to all of the writers whose fabulous work I am leaving out.  At the same time, there can be no doubt that the work I am presenting here is the cream of the cream of the cream.

Like all good writing, these eleven pieces speak for themselves better than anyone else can speak for them.  Nonetheless, I can never stop myself from praising the excellent writers I select for Connotation Press.  Here, therefore, with the link to each piece, are my comments, many of them adapted from what I said when I originally presented the writer’s work to the public.

The order is chronological, from September, 2010 through July, 2011:

Campbell.picScott Campbell has made something of a personal industry for himself out of writing about “Daisy Parker”—in fiction, in film, and now in creative nonfiction.  He writes about her with such evocative sympathy that perhaps every woman should wish to be a Daisy Parker, while every heterosexual man may indeed wish to possess a Daisy Parker.  At the very least, the reader can now get an inside intimation regarding what all of this substantial fuss has been about.

Lamph In “Bees,” Samantha Lamph explores the miscues that are so often apparent in first love, revealing the strains and rewards of human connectedness.  One of the greatest satisfactions in helping to edit a literary magazine is the discovery of the wonderful, talented young people such as Lamph.

Keener Jessica Keener’s “Not for Sale” skillfully delivers the sense of loss we all feel when our elders become infirm and we begin losing our sense of home.  This story spoke personally to me, as I have been a caregiver for my parents since 2008, when they both suffered strokes.  I know that this is a topic that has an impact on millions of people, and we should all thank Jessica for addressing it.

Caldwell Chloe Caldwell’s “Night Bird” directs a series of dramatic questions to a person who must be The Ultimate Other:  the former romantic/sexual partner.  I think almost everyone will be able to relate to this deceptively straightforward piece.

Mason-BillieJo No less beguiling is Billie Jo Mason’s “The Changeling,” which investigates the shifting Otherness of the spouse who is not the same person one married.  Sound familiar?  And yet the approach here is shatteringly original.

Hogan “Daddy’s Girl,” by Carolyn Ellen Hogan, dramatizes an embarrassing yet poignant moment between father and daughter, an emotional threshold in the process of growing up.  You will be enthralled by this piece, even if you are not a father or a daughter.

March “The Church of Dead Girls,” by Anna March, brings home a topic that, because of saturation media coverage, has left much of society numb, but March’s dexterous treatment restores the issue’s reality so powerfully that parts of the essay are painful to read.  And yet we must read this stunning piece, and cannot stop reading it, because there is so much at stake.

Lefer Diane Lefer’s “Facing Life” is just as evocative and singular in its investigation of a topic that touches few middle-class, comfortable readers, but which is nonetheless an issue of vital social concern: life within our prisons.  Lefer examines, illuminates, and instructs, while never losing her personal touch with the reader.

Tonkovich “Annals of Unlikelihood, No. 1,” by Andrew Tonkovich, is not only a brilliantly complex, engaging, and funny piece of social activism, but it heralds what is perhaps a new genre, one we might call meta-creative-nonfiction.  It is an ingenious undertaking, and you must read it and see for yourself.

Kelley Jacqueline C. Kelley, in “Pushing on the Boardwalk,” must not only navigate a new life with a spinal injury, but finds that she has to navigate her way through the attitudes of other people.  It is a powerful piece, and I was very happy to solicit and publish it.

Bast Mary Bast, in “A Long Way Down,” is not only trying to navigate a new relationship with the famous writer she has met, but is trying to navigate her way through his dense and contradictory personality.  The essay is flawlessly rendered and a joy to read.

All of these pieces are emotionally engrossing and intellectually fulfilling.  If you read them one after another, losing yourself in the aggregation of so much excellent writing, you’re in for one of the greatest rewards of your reading life.

And, of course, if you write creative nonfiction yourself, I would very much like to hear from you.  I publish five nonfiction writers a month, which is a lot more than most literary magazines.  It’s gratifying for me to know that I’ll be reading and publishing many of you in the year to come.  So go ahead and give us a try—you can send me your work at [email protected].