When the National Book Awards Longlist for Nonfiction was released this week with only one woman author out of 10 nominees (and only one person of color), I thought, wow, the jury (two of whom are women) must have completely missed the increasingly vociferous discussions over the past few years about the lack of gender equity in the literary world. Then I read the Slate essay in which Katy Waldman calls nonfiction the ‘patriarch of the book world.’ As the author of a forthcoming nonfiction book, a biography, I have become aware of how male-dominated the field of biography is. But why all of nonfiction?
Why do we spend so much time with stories whose endings we already know?
In the twenty-first century, the lyric essay at its worst is a utility or an app; at its best, it’s a cross-hatch of a genre in which things cross over; implicitly chiasmic, it’s a space in which incompatible discourses are allowed to intermingle; wherein poetry and prose create productive frictions, enabling a new, unnatural form, illegible and readable for the first time.
Woolf’s particular flavor of modernism is rooted in the drive to gather, hold, and deepen moments, to make the shimmering moment of perception the base upon which “reality” rests. Her sensibility honors the fleeting, fragile instances of a person’s life.
A meditation on what it means to be alone and how we seek meaning from the natural world by Leslie Jamison, bestselling author of The Empathy Exams.
Recommended reading: Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams (which The Millions covered here and here), writes again, this time about 52 Blue, “the loneliest whale in the world.” The full work is available at Atavist for $3.99, but an excerpt is available at Slate.
Recommended reading: “One of the drillers fell to his knees. Some sobbed, in the way men do when their mothers die, or when their sons are born.” An exceptional and deeply moving long-form essay in the New Yorker recounting the 69 days spent underground by the famed ’33′ Chilean miners buried in the 2010 accident at Copiapó.
Both my parents are prolific mailers. Every year my mother sends me at least two birthday cards, which arrive on the same day. She insists she can’t pick between the messages. (Hallmark loves her.) … I joke with friends, calling it Summer Camp Syndrome, half-embarrassed by the constancy of the post, by its hint that I am merely on an extended trip somewhere, except that the trip is my life. But the truth is: there in the mail lobby, after a long day, I have come to crave seeing their hand.
Had my piano teacher scrawled, ‘Play one wrong note and you die’ across my sheet music in addition to her helpful but not particularly inspirational fingering suggestions, I probably would have practiced more diligently.