Tuesday, September 23, 2014

things to read that matter

In my search for journals that might publish my writing, I've been reading a great deal--to get a sense of each journal before submitting to it. One thing I hadn't realized but which I can now declare with a fair bit of confidence is that as far as I can tell, in the small-press literary world there are more contests, journals, zines, etc. dedicated to poetry than to any other genre. I can also say with conviction that there is a lot of fantastic writing being published. You just have to know where to look to find it.

Here are the top three essays that have stuck with me lately. I highly, highly recommend reading all three.

1. "A Simple, Declarative Sentence," by Bonnie Nadzam, was published in TriQuarterly at the beginning of this year. It's about a young woman (aka the author, this being creative nonfiction) who had an affair with an older man. The older man's wife takes the young woman under her wing and tries to teach her a thing or two. This essay is so worth reading. It's worth reading if you are interested in human relationships, or in good writing, and especially if you are interested in the complexities of language.

2. "Rape Culture in the Alaskan Wilderness," by Sara Bernard, published last week in The Atlantic Monthly is a fantastic and heart-crushing piece of journalism. It's about exactly what it sounds like it's about: the prevalence of rape in the Alaskan wilderness, and just how protected rapists are culturally. The essay also explores how and why rape might be so common in the small, isolated Alaskan villages. The essay is part of a huge cultural conversation about....well, colonization, for starters. If you care about gender relationships, and racial relationships, and violence, I highly recommend this essay.

3. Literal Latte was a journal new to me, but now that I've found it I know it's going to be one of my favorite places to read. Jean Guerrero won their recent essay context with her essay, "Juanita and the Beach of Fairies." I sat down to read a paragraph or two of it, just to get a feel for what kind of writing Literal Latte publishes, and I read straight through the whole essay in one long gulp. It's the riveting story of her near-drowning experience, and everything that happened afterwards.

All three of these essays matter. They all three give voice to deeply personal experiences that haven't historically been given voice. The writing is excellent in all three, and the thinking is excellent, and the feeling is real. They're all three examples of why I hope good writers will keep working hard to publish. Because good writing actually does matter for reasons a whole lot more significant than getting a paycheck or building a career.


  1. Thank you, Tamie, for these recommendations! I read these three essays last night in one go and appreciated each of them.

    It will not surprise you to know I had a hard time with the piece about rape in Alaska. A) you're in Alaska, and B) I already carry so much sorrow over the misogyny of our time, often evidenced in stories of rape or violence against women. I feel a bit closed to explorations of the Why's when I am in a place of just wanting it the fuck to stop.

    I really enjoyed the language essay--a good lesson for us all regarding simple declarative sentences! I especially liked the pass-the-salt example, and I saw some of my own assumptions mirrored in the author's as she explained her beliefs about complex thought and complex sentences. It's easy to see the value of simple statements in the examples she gives, how they demonstrate self in clear, true ways.

    The near-drowing story was compelling, for sure. It captures some of my fear about the sea that you've seen me jokingly act out...

    Please keep the recommendations coming:)

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  4. I read all three essays too. I feel rather emotionally tired now... ;) I have lots of responses in me! But will ruminate a bit, first.

  5. I'd love to hear your thoughts when they rise to share!