Literary journals have notoriously small readerships, with only a few venerated juggernauts—the Paris Review, Tin House, Ploughshares, to name a few—standing out from a profuse field that seems to grow exponentially every year. Fourth Genre, published semiannually by Michigan State University Press, is another name that deserves inclusion on the reading lists of lit journal devotees. Trafficking exclusively in nonfiction (the other three genres, as FG defines them, being poetry, fiction, and drama), the journal publishes new material from writers working in a genre that has gained considerable traction over the past few decades.
It’s more than just memoir: Fourth Genre’s website promises “interviews with prominent nonfiction writers, roundtable discussions of topical genre issues, mini-essays by selected photographers and visual artists, letters from readers, and reviews and capsule summaries of current books.”
The Spring 2008 issue features 11 fine examples of literary nonfiction, such as Leslie Haynsworth’s essay-memoir hybrid “My Volvo, My Self: The (Largely Unintended) Existential Implications of Bumper Stickers,” which examines the deceptively simple memes and identity politics perpetuated by bumper stickers. There is a roundtable discussion on “Teaching the Classical Essay,” several full-length and capsule book reviews, and a “comment on the form” by D.K. McCutchen called “The Art of Lying—Or Risking the Wrath of Oprah,” which considers the recent scandals arising from fabricated nonfiction and acknowledges the slippery nature of truth in memoir.
Fourth Genre’s admittedly underpopulated website doesn’t do its content justice; you’re better off seeking out the print edition at an independent bookstore or subscribing online. You won’t be disappointed: Handsomely assembled, meticulously edited, and densely packed with good, diverse prose, Fourth Genre stands as an excellent bellwether for the current state of creative nonfiction.