Monday, July 25, 2011

The 2011 Essay Prize Winner & Forthcoming Conversation

Well after the fact, I realize that none of us every posted an official capstone on the conversations that the two graduate craft seminars had last spring on the nominations and finalists for the Essay Prize 2011. Apologies for the oversight. This is just a short note to announce that the winner of the prize is Judith Schalansky's Atlas of Remote Islands. Thanks to John D'Agata for inviting the University of Arizona to participate in the conversation and selection process this year.

In the next few weeks in this space I've asked the editors of a couple new and forthcoming anthologies of essays to guest post about their favorite selections from the anthologies, what case their anthologies make about the state and range of the contemporary essay, and their motivations in assembling these anthologies. I've more or less been using one of five anthologies to teach my undergraduate courses over the last few years, and am happy to see some new and perhaps more interesting options come up. Of course I'm a fan of John's The Next American Essay and the case that it starts to make (especially in concert with the second collection, The Lost Origins of the Essay), but I get a bit bored with the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, though it's got some excellent essays. And the Best American Essays series is usually an interesting choice, as are Lee Gutkind's The Best Creative Nonfiction 1, 2, and 3. The Best American Essays of the Century is excellent, but it feels dusty, and I feel dusty, and I just want to get clean after that. I eschew textbooks in general: I've never liked the paratexts surrounding the actual essays with the helpful writing tips and instructional whatnot, and prefer the essays themselves without all the crap. Really I might as well make a packet for myself and just use that, but then I feel like I'm limiting my inputs, not forcing myself to reckon with anything new, like living in a gated community, which you know is a model home for our future death.

Sheryl St. Germain and Margaret L. Whitford will be guest blogging about Between Song and Story: Essays for the Twenty-First Century (Autumn House Press, out now) an anthology that's clearly looking at the intersection between lyric and narrative. (Full disclosure: this and a few of these other anthologies include my work; it's a small world, the essay world.)

Then there's BJ Hollars' edited anthology, Blurring the Boundaries: Explorations to the Fringes of Nonfiction, forthcoming in 2012 it looks like from University of Nebraska Press. I've asked him to contribute a note about this sometime in the future too. I don't know what all is in here, but it looks and sounds interesting. And Jill Talbot is editing an anthology of metanonfiction (and interviews with the nonfictioners included there) forthcoming in 2012 from University of Iowa Press. My sense is that these anthologies are among a set trying to offer a less traditional/more radical or adventurous vision of what the essay can be.

I'm sure there are others forthcoming--and I'd invite you to join us in our conversation here as it progresses.

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