Essayist William Bradley shares his list of favorite resources for people interested in creative nonfiction.
Many of us are aware of the fantastic essays published in respected, high-profile magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s. But for those of you looking for less well-known sources for compelling, thought-provoking essays, I offer the following list of magazines and other resources:
- Creative Nonfiction: There’s a temptation to call Creative Nonfiction “the magazine that started it all.” That’s not entirely accurate—Montaigne gave us the essay form in the 16th century, after all. Still, it’s impossible to understate the impact this magazine—the first that I know of devoted exclusively to nonfiction forms of literary expression—has had on this genre. Their website has a pretty generous selection of online reprints of pieces that originally appeared in the print magazine.
- Fourth Genre: Fourth Genre has been around almost as long as Creative Nonfiction, and it too specializes in nonfiction forms, the essay included. I particularly enjoy reading (and, occasionally, writing) their book reviews, which are longer than standard book reviews and function more like essays centered around literature in general and the reviewed books specifically.
- Hotel Amerika: Hotel Amerika is not, strictly speaking, a nonfiction magazine—they publish all genres. But their nonfiction is frequently bold, often formally daring, and is always compelling.
-The Normal School: Hands-down, my current favorite literary magazine. Founded by Steven Church, Sophie Beck, and Matt Roberts (among others) in 2008, The Normal School’s very first issue featured poetry from Philip Levine, fiction by Steve Almond, and nonfiction from Dinty W. Moore. They publish a healthy mix of established and emerging talents, too.
-The Pinch: Another multi-genre magazine, edited by Kristen Iversen, author of the acclaimed memoir Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. The Pinch may be most notable for finding new, up-and-coming voices, and the essays they publish are top-notch.
- River Teeth: I can’t really put it better than Robert Atwan, who wrote in this year’s Best American Essaysanthology, “Although the general reading public may not be familiar with the journal, [River Teeth] is well known to nonfiction writers for its exacting standards and wide-ranging topics.” So I won’t even try.
Online magazines and websites:
- Bending Genre: This online resource came about after Nicole Walker and Margot Singer published their essay anthology Bending Genre. The book itself sought to delineate and question the lines between fact and fiction in creative nonfiction writing; the website presents genre-bending work by the authors whose essays appear in the collection and, recently, other author the editors admire.
- Brevity: Founded in 1997 by editor Dinty W. Moore, Brevity is an excellent online magazine of brief (fewer than 750 words) nonfiction, from some of the best writers in the field including Sherman Alexie, Lia Purpura, Bob Cowser Jr, Jill Talbot, Judith Kitchen, and more. All of their back issues are available online, and for free. For news and commentary about essays and other creative nonfiction forms, check out The Brevity Blog, updated just about every day.
- Essay Daily: Established by Ander Monson (one of the most compelling essayists writing today), this blog is exactly what it sounds like—an ongoing discussion of essays, written by essayists both prominent and promising, updated every day. Indispensible for any lover of the form.
- Quotidiana: This collection of classical essays available through public domain is curated by essayist Patrick Madden. While many of these essays are available elsewhere online, many are not, and it’s rather amazing to see so many essays by so many essayists—from the fifth to the twentieth centuries—arranged in one place. You could spend days reading these essays, and still feel like you’d only scratched the surface.
- Sweet: A Literary Confection: I often think of Sweet —which was founded and is edited by Ira Sukrungruang, Katherine Riegel, and K.C. Wolfe—as “that new online magazine of poetry and creative nonfiction.” It’s not really new at all—it’s been around for years. And in those years, they’ve published some great works by the likes of Joe Bonomo, Lee Martin, Michael Martone, Brenda Miller, Maureen Stanton, Nicole Walker, and many others. It’s well worth your time.
William Bradley's essay"Acquiring Empathy Through Essays" was recently published in Utne Reader (January/February 2014). His work has appeared in a variety of magazines and journals including The Missouri Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and College English. Three of his essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and one,"The Bald and the Beautiful," was listed as a "Notable Essay of 2005" in that year's Best American Essays anthology. He lives in New York's North Country, where he teaches at St. Lawrence University and has recently finished revising his own essay collection.
Photo courtesy katerha, licensed under Creative Commons.
France-based singer-songwriter Piers Faccini unveils poignant, animated video for "Missing Words."
If you watch NBC’s “Parenthood” or ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” you’ve probably heard the music of singer-songwriter Piers Faccini. The songsmith is also a very capable director, as he proves with the video for “Missing Words,” which Utne Reader is pleased to premiere.
“Missing Words” is from Faccini’s latest album, Between Dogs and Wolves, and the animated video features more 200 paper silhouettes coming to life. The moving silhouettes are the perfect complement to Faccini’s lyrics about words unspoken and words fatefully left behind.
An intimate suite of songs on the themes of love and desire, Between Dogs and Wolves depicts the unknowable and indefinable spaces between these themes, spirit and animal, between the wild and the tamed. Faccini's haunting voice is front-and-center in the mix, and he performs on an eclectic collection of instruments (guitar, harmonium, dulcimer, kora, etc.) alongside special guests Jules Bikoko (bass, harmony vocals) and labelmate Dom la Nena (cello, harmony vocals). Between Dogs and Wolves is available now through Six Degree Records, and through iTunes.
Photo by Alice Dison
Essays give us a record of someone else’s consciousness, and successful essayists inspire a sense of empathy in their readers.
I have several friends and relatives with whom I sometimes argue on social media. These are all decent people—loving parents, devoted spouses, supportive friends – but I suspect that many of them think I’m the most ridiculous bleeding heart they have ever met. I have been told more than once that my frequent Facebook or Twitter links to articles and opinion pieces concerned with issues like online misogyny, marriage equality, and racial profiling suggest that I’m obsessed with toeing a politically correct line in order to advertise my own sensitivity and enlightenment. I am, after all, a white heterosexual man. These aren’t my battles, so why do I seem to take these issues so personally? The glib answer—and the one I employ most often when people ask—is “decency,” but lately I have been wondering how and why my own sense of empathy has developed the way it has. The answer, I think, is related to my interest in essays.
I know, I know. I’ve probably lost you. Everyone hates essays. Those five-paragraph compositions we were forced to write in school with topics like “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” or “What Flag Day Means to Me.” And truthfully, I never had much use for them myself when I was younger (in high school, after reading A Tale of Two Cities, we were assigned to write an essay chronicling our own “last words” a la Sydney Carton’s “It’s a far, far better thing…”—I wrote a narrative about mowing the lawn, then burned the bottom of the last page to make it look like I had spontaneously combusted). Essays, we have been raised to believe, are dull, punishing things to read and to write.
It wasn’t until college that I learned to love the essay. Not those five-paragraph yawn-inducers, but the truly great personal essays by the likes of Michele de Montaigne, William Hazlitt, and Virginia Woolf. Of course I never had the experience of serving in Her Majesty’s Indian Imperial Police, but reading George Orwell’s experiences in his essays “Shooting an Elephant” and “A Hanging” gave me some idea of what doing so was like, and why imperialism is such a terrible thing. I’ll never be a young woman falling in and out of love with New York City in the middle of the twentieth century, but I have some idea of what such a young woman went through as a result of reading Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That.”
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.
Successful essayists inspire a sense of empathy in their readers. We may not necessarily agree with the essayist, or even find her likeable, but we at least come to understand her thoughts and point-of-view in a deep and significant way; thus, we come to understand other people in general in a deep and significant way. Those who seemed foreign or “other” to us become familiar, as recognizable as our own reflections in the mirror. And the manufactured divisions perpetuated by pundits and politicians—black and white, red state and blue state, us and them—are revealed as the simple-minded fictions that they are. Of course, reading literature in general has a similar effect—careful readers usually end up examining their own lives after reading Leo Tolstoy’s story “The Death of Ivan Ilych” or Tess Gallagher’s poem “The Hug”—but what I like about essays is the way they immediately connect us to other people who have really lived in this world. A careless reader can cast aside Tolstoy’s story as “merely made-up,” but no one can deny that E.B. White really existed, and really contemplated time and mortality on the trip he described in his essay “Once More to the Lake.”
I’m not naïve. I’m not trying to argue that we’d live in a utopia if everyone read essays. But I do think we’d be better off if we heeded the essayist’s reminder that we can find common ground with other people, if we look hard enough. Michele de Montaigne, the 16th century writer and philosopher who gave this form its name, observed that “Every man has within himself the entirety of the human condition.” Read an essay by the likes of Ira Sukrungruang, Eula Biss, Gayle Pemberton, or Jill Talbott every day or two, and you’ll find that idea easy to remember. If you’re anything like me, you might wind up becoming a more patient and compassionate person as a result.
William Bradley's work has appeared in a variety of magazines and journals including The Missouri Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and College English. Three of his essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and one,"The Bald and the Beautiful," was listed as a "Notable Essay of 2005" in that year's Best American Essays anthology. He lives in New York's North Country, where he teaches at St. Lawrence University and has recently finished revising his own essay collection.
Photo courtesy Bernard Goldbach, licensed under Creative Commons.
This article originally appeared at Shareable.
For a while now, scholars, the United
Nations, and perhaps your grandmother have been worrying about the decline of
languages. No, not the use of emoticons or the slackening of grammar rules, but
death of Romani, Cherokee, Yiddish, and thousands of other tongues.
With 7,000 different speech systems
in the world, many nearly killed off with their native speakers, preservation
is a beyond-enormous goal. It’s also time sensitive. Experts estimate that 3,054 to 3,176 languages are endangered:
That’s 43 to 46 percent of all known languages on earth, in addition to the
hundreds that are already extinct. But now, collaborative initiatives like the Rosetta Project illustrate that
everyone—really, everyone—can pitch in.
Rosetta is part of the Long Now Foundation, an organization with its
eye trained on a tiny speck so very far away, many of us can’t even picture it.
The foundation believes that we should think of the future not in terms of
decades or centuries, but in millennia: that our decisions should be informed
by how the world might be in 10,000 years. Board members include musician Brian Eno and tech
advocate Esther Dyson.
They support the notion that if we think in huge units of time, our actions are
more likely to be thoughtful, sustainable, and, well, without-a-doubt
future-oriented. That same ethos applies to language sharing.
Several people-powered efforts come
out of the foundation’s Rosetta Project (which is not related to the Rosetta
Stone software, though that company does have an endangered languages program).
One is called a Record-a-Thon.
In this grassroots series of events, community members gather together to
record the languages they know with basic equipment like phones and laptops. In
another Rosetta endeavor, anyone with an
internet connection can upload audio or text files to the organization’s
website. A person can read aloud passages of the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights in Swedish or in Tagalog, for instance, and help 30th-century linguists
compare the same words across thousands of other submissions. The eventual
result will be a modern version of the ancient Rosetta
Stone—if, say, 2 million humans had contributed.
The project stores its updated trove
at the Internet Archive for all to access. It also etches linguistic info in
teensy letters onto durable
metal disks whose texts can be read under a microscope, potentially for
millennia to come. Other initiatives foster speech sharing, such as the Endangered Languages Project,
the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages
Project, and the Endangered
Language Fund, of which the esteemed linguist Noam Chomsky is a
It will likely take years to gather
every idiom, every inflection, every umlaut on earth. But, the idea goes, when
folks in different towns contribute to a huge, collaborative effort, we can
each share some useful knowledge. And by collectively preserving at-risk
languages for future generations, we might even make your grandma happy.
Image by Hans Hillewaert, licensed under Creative Commons.
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
Available now on Anti-
It’s now been four-plus years since Neko Case’s last album, 2009’s breakthrough Middle Cyclone, a collection that catapulted Case from indie-rock heroine to mainstream “name” with a Q Score. Debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200, it earned her two Grammy nominations and more rave reviews than all of her past work with the New Pornographers, the Corn Sisters, and as a solo artist.
Thus, the anticipation for her new album—The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You—has been long and loud. Which mirrors the creation process for Case. “My brain wilderness is more dense and dangerous than I thought,” she explains. “It was an embarrassing and hilarious march, but I now feel like a more streamlined being. It’s a good feeling. Four years of my life took 10 years hostage, then gave me back 12.”
The result is a tough, proud, powerful album that’s simply stunning from start to stop. As she states on the teaser single, “Man,” “I’m not your identity crisis/This was planned.”
Case’s band is bare bones but to the point, crafting rock riffs that shimmer and glow. Throughout, Case’s lyrics are more sure, more poetic, more resonant than ever before. The coda to “Man” sums it up: “And if I’m dipshit drunk on the pink perfume/I am the man in the fucking moon/’Cause you didn’t know what a man was/Until I showed you.”
Photo by Jim McGuire
Over the course of a career that started in the late 60s, David Bromberg has been at the forefront of Americana music. He has collaborated with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Jerry Garcia, and is considered a flat picker on par with folk music icons Doc
Watson and Clarence White. An expressive singer, a witty
songwriter, and a gifted interpreter of Americana, the multi-instrumentalist's full range of Americana roots are on display on his latest album Only Slightly Mad, out September 24 on Appleseed Recordings. Here's Bromberg's take on the classic Big Bill Broonzy tune "Good Liquor Gonna Carry Me Down," which Utne Reader is pleased to premiere here:
Recorded in Levon Helm's barn, Only Slightly Mad features Mark Cosgrove (guitar,
mandolin, vocals), Butch Amiot (bass, vocals), Nate Grower (fiddle, mandolin),
and Josh Kanusky (drums). The band will be taking their blues, gospel, and ersatz British drinking songs (and more) on the road for a tour that starts September 13 and includes a feature slot at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville on September 19. Visit David's website for a complete list of tour dates.
Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education
Edited by Mara Sapon-Shevin Nancy Schniedewind
Available now through Beacon Press
Education reform used to mean something very different.
Before the neoliberal education agenda took shape in the 1990s, reform was not
about standardized testing, merit pay, or high-stakes competition. Rather, for
progressive pioneers like Deborah Meier and her colleagues at Central Park East
School in New York City, reform was about realizing the
democratic potential of public education. And democratic in every sense of the
word—from fostering collaboration and self-direction among students to building
relationships with parents and community members to closing racial achievement
It’s that idea of a democratic education that drives the
most passionate voices in Educational
Courage, for which Meier writes the Foreword. From teachers in Tucson
fighting to defend a Mexican-American Studies program to a fifth grader in Texas
standing up to high-stakes testing, the book illustrates the bravery,
compassion, and resilience of education’s real reform movement.
Nowhere is this truer than in the passages describing social
justice unionism, a concept that appears again and again throughout this
collection. Building on the idea of a democratic education, social justice
unionism depends on teachers making meaningful connections not only with
parents but with struggles for justice in the larger community. By building
alliances with community organizations, teachers can infuse their curricula
with the nuts and bolts of participatory democracy, while at the same time
better resist privatization and school closings.
And it’s effective. One of Educational Courage’s more inspiring stories comes from organizer
Bob Peterson, who describes a 2009 campaign in Milwaukee to stop a mayoral takeover of the
city’s school system. The takeover would have resulted in massive cuts and
layoffs, but a coalition of some 28 local organizations beat it back in a
matter of months. The victory showed not only the value of unions reaching beyond
the walls of the classroom, writes Peterson, but also how such connections and
struggles can be an education in themselves for both students and teachers.
Perhaps the most alarming aspect of changes like No Child
Left Behind or Race to the Top is how easily ideals like this get lost. Infused
with the language of crisis and competition, the reformers of today have made
privatization and standardization seem like the only alternatives. Asking what
a more participatory, inclusive, and democratic education might look like is no
longer in vogue. Thankfully, while policymakers and pundits have a rather short
memory, teachers do not.