As the Creative Nonfiction Editor for Connotation Press, one of my great pleasures is reviewing the pieces I’ve presented over the past year, in order to identify the best of the best for our yearly retrospective issue. It’s always a difficult process, since the reason I published all of the pieces in the first place was because they’d convinced me of their excellence.
And so I say what I say every year: I take a kind of arduous joy in crunching my brain in order to arrive at the best creative nonfiction of the past twelve months. Since there’s no way to place the pieces in order of quality, here they are in alphabetical order:
In “The Pump Room,” Elizabeth Block describes an experience I’ve never read about before, told from the perspective of a new mother. Every paragraph of her tale is compelling, compassionate, and revelatory, as is this one: “Draped in hospital robe, I seek privacy and dignity, or just some moment where I don’t have to use this post-industrialized breast pump, to feel like a commercial milking cow. To place my breast milk in the right receptacle, label it properly, and deliver it promptly to the nurse for my daughter’s consumption, or—if I’m lucky—to produce enough to freeze for later, which is always a game of catch up. I am never a good enough mother milk fucking factory.”
I’ve been interested in the work of Ann Bogle for many years, now and am grateful finally to have the opportunity to publish her. “In Audience” demonstrates that creative nonfiction, while relating factual events, can be as formally inventive and nontraditional as any genre of creative writing.
Shiv Dutta’s piece, “Rite of Passage,” is about his life with his beloved wife, Rita, and how he lost her to cancer. I’m going to let the piece speak for itself. I think most everyone, whether having recently lost a loved one or not, will find many valuable things to relate to in Dutta’s writing.
Ric Hoeben’s “Another Kind of Baba,” addresses an issue that’s of great personal power: the way a young boy first encounters the mysterious violence of his father’s war.
One of the greatest satisfactions in helping to edit a literary magazine is the discovery of the wonderful, talented young people such as Samantha Lamph. Her piece, “I Saw The Master,” evokes all of the magic, comedy, and terror of childhood.
I am selecting two pieces by Gail Peck, “With My Stepfather beside the Peonies,” and “My Grandmother’s Picture at Thirteen.” You can tell from the titles that she is exploring family themes, and when you read her work, you’ll see that her memory is focusing more on joy than on loss.
In “Molotov Cocktails,” Robert Joe Stout writes about the most serious theme any writer can approach: injustice. Any one of his paragraphs conveys the desperate seriousness of what he is telling us, and here is a typical one: “State authorities had filed orders for her apprehension. Five members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca who were confined in the prison in Miahuatlán signed documents that accused Sánchez of instigating them to burn buildings and to riot. All five recanted when they were released from police custody. One of the five reportedly informed members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca, ‘They beat me. Said they’d rape my wife. I didn’t know what to do. The paper I signed was blank!’”
One night earlier this year, I was taking a walk through a part of town containing a small homeless encampment, where people live in tents. The property they’ve occupied is a bulldozed high school where middle-class homes will soon be built. The homeless have lived here for quite some time, but tonight something new was happening: A man was ordering them to pack up their things, demanding to know which things they would take with them and which things the city would take to the dump. The tent
residents had only minutes to decide. Construction on the site was to begin in the early morning, and the homeless were being ordered out now.
Witnessing this made me think about a lot of things, one of which is the fact that I haven’t read much literature from the point of view of those who’ve lived on the streets. So this month I’ve decided to give you “Seattle, We’re Begging” by Braxton Younts.
Finally, I’m always looking for new essays to publish. I invite you to submit nonfiction on a topic of your choice. I’m looking for creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and personal essays—with the understanding that these categories often overlap. Up to 10,000 words. Please submit work directly to me at [email protected]. I look forward to reading your work—and who knows, you may even find yourself honored next year in my “best of” column!