5 Years of 4th Genre
Martha Bates Michigan State University Press, 2006 Library of Congress PS659.A154 2006 | Dewey Decimal 818.540808
In 1999, Michigan State University Press launched Fourth Genre: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction, a journal that began with and has maintained a devotion to publishing notable, innovative work in nonfiction. The title reflects an intent to give nonfiction its due as a literary genre—to give writers of the 'fourth genre' a showcase for their work and to give readers a place to find the liveliest and most creative works in the form.
Given the genre's flexibility and expansiveness, journal editors Michael Steinberg and David Cooper have welcomed a variety of works— ranging from personal essays and memoirs to literary journalism and personal criticism. The essays are lyrical, self-interrogative, meditative, and reflective, as well as expository, analytical, exploratory, or whimsical. In short, Fourth Genre encourages a writer- to-reader conversation, one that explores the markers and boundaries of literary/creative nonfiction.
Since its inaugural issue, contributors have earned many literary awards: 5 Notable Essays of the Year (Best American Essay); the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award; Notable Essay of the Year (Best American Travel Writing); and 4 Pushcart Prizes. Five Years of 4th Genre is a celebration of this significant literary journal. Culling a selection of some of the most creative of Fourth Genre’s first five years—the Pushcart winners are here, as well as those essays that are unique, those that tell us something new, those that startle us, and those that touch our hearts —this volume presents a representative sampling.
In modern culture, the essay is often considered an old-fashioned, unoriginal form of literary styling. The word essay brings to mind the uninspired five-paragraph theme taught in schools around the country or the antiquated, Edwardian meanderings of English gentlemen rattling on about art and old books. These connotations exist despite the fact that Americans have been reading and enjoying personal essays in popular magazines for decades, engaging with a multitude of ideas through this short-form means of expression.
To defend the essay—that misunderstood staple of first-year composition courses—Ned Stuckey-French has written The American Essay in the American Century. This book uncovers the buried history of the American personal essay and reveals how it played a significant role in twentieth-century cultural history.
In the early 1900s, writers and critics debated the “death of the essay,” claiming it was too traditional to survive the era’s growing commercialism, labeling it a bastion of British upper-class conventions. Yet in that period, the essay blossomed into a cultural force as a new group of writers composed essays that responded to the concerns of America’s expanding cosmopolitan readership. These essays would spark the “magazine revolution,” giving a fresh voice to the ascendant middle class of the young century.
With extensive research and a cultural context, Stuckey-French describes the many reasons essays grew in appeal and importance for Americans. He also explores the rise of E. B. White, considered by many the greatest American essayist of the first half of the twentieth century whose prowess was overshadowed by his success in other fields of writing. White’s work introduced a new voice, creating an American essay that melded seriousness and political resolve with humor and self-deprecation. This book is one of the first to consider and reflect on the contributions of E. B. White to the personal essay tradition and American culture more generally.
The American Essay in the American Century is a compelling, highly readable book that illuminates the history of a secretly beloved literary genre. A work that will appeal to fiction readers, scholars, and students alike, this book offers fundamental insight into modern American literary history and the intersections of literature, culture, and class through the personal essay. This thoroughly researched volume dismisses, once and for all, the “death of the essay,” proving that the essay will remain relevant for a very long time to come.
Selected from the country’s leading literary journals and publications—Colorado Review, Creative Nonfiction, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, The Normal School, and others—Beautiful Flesh gathers eighteen essays on the body, essentially building a multi-gender, multi-ethnic body out of essays, each concerning a different part of the body: belly, brain, bones, blood, ears, eyes, hair, hands, heart, lungs, nose, ovaries, pancreas, sinuses, skin, spine, teeth, and vas deferens. The title is drawn from Wendy Call’s essay “Beautiful Flesh,” a meditation on the pancreas: “gorgeously ugly, hideously beautiful: crimson globes embedded in a pinkish-tan oval, all nestled on a bed of cabbage-olive green, spun through with gossamer gold.”
Other essays include Dinty W. Moore’s “The Aquatic Ape,” in which the author explores the curious design and necessity of sinuses; Katherine E. Standefer’s “Shock to the Heart, Or: A Primer on the Practical Applications of Electricity,” a modular essay about the author’s internal cardiac defibrillator and the nature of electricity; Matt Roberts’s “Vasectomy Instruction 7,” in which the author considers the various reasons for and implications of surgically severing and sealing the vas deferens; and Peggy Shinner’s “Elective,” which examines the author’s own experience with rhinoplasty and cultural considerations of the “Jewish nose.” Echoing the myriad shapes, sizes, abilities, and types of the human body, these essays showcase the many forms of the genre: personal, memoir, lyric, braided, and so on.
Contributors: Amy Butcher, Wendy Call, Steven Church, Sarah Rose Etter, Matthew Ferrence, Hester Kaplan, Sarah K. Lenz, Lupe Linares, Jody Mace, Dinty W. Moore, Angela Pelster, Matt Roberts, Peggy Shinner, Samantha Simpson, Floyd Skloot, Danielle R. Spencer, Katherine E. Standefer, Kaitlyn Teer, Sarah Viren, Vicki Weiqi Yang
From the New Yorker’s inimitable first pop music critic comes this pioneering collection of essays by a conscientious writer whose political realm is both radical and rational, and whose prime preoccupations are with rock ’n’ roll, sexuality, and above all, freedom. Here Ellen Willis assuredly captures the thrill of music, the disdain of authoritarian culture, and the rebellious spirit of the ’60s and ’70s.
Would that our memories were self-selecting. But often what we remember most, and most vividly, are those moments that caught us unawares: the things we wish we hadn’t seen and have never been able to shake. This group of prominent American writers tries to come to grips with obsessive memory, the uncanny, and the bad dreams that accompany the moments in our lives when we wish we’d looked away, the places we wish we’d never been, and the scenes we wish we’d never stumbled upon.
Featuring essays by Jericho Parms, XU XI, Jerald Walker, José Orduña, Kristen Iversen, Nicole Walker, Mary Cappello, Lina Ferreira, Colleen O’Connor, Sonya Huber, Paul Crenshaw, Alyce Miller, Patrick Madden, Amelia María de la Luz Montes, Yalie Kamara, Emily Heiden, Lee Martin, and David Lazar,
this collection bares all. The authors invite readers into a dream that resurrects a departed mother each night, only to lose her again each morning upon waking; the post-mortem newspaper photos of a former student; kaleidoscope childhood memories of the mundane mixed up together with the traumatic; an unplanned pregnancy; a bullfight and a spouse’s mortality; a teen witnessing the suicide of her father; a parent trying to shield his children from witnessing a violent death. What these writers are after, though, is not the melancholic/grotesque/violent moment itself, but the process of remembering—and trying to forget. They examine the way these memories take hold, resurface, and never leave, and what it means for a life lived long after these moments have passed. These scenes, slowly enfolding us like bad dreams or flying by like trains on elevated platforms, demand we reach some kind of accommodation with them—make peace or make sense or make amends. The one thing they insist with certainty is this: they cannot—will not—be unseen.
In E. B. White: The Emergence of an Essayist, Robert Root traces the literary career of the best-known and most widely admired American essayist of the twentieth century.
Root explores the milieu in which White began writing the "Notes and Comments" section of the New Yorker and puts in perspective the influence of popular "colyumists" like Don Marquis and Christopher Morley on the tone and form of White's work as a "paragrapher." He examines White's persistent disaffection with the demands and limitations inherent in his "Comment" pieces for the New Yorker and his experiences as a columnist for Harper's Magazine, where his "One Man's Meat" feature produced his most enduring essay, "Once More to the Lake," and took the segmented column form to new levels of accomplishment. Drawing on White's manuscripts, Root's literary analysis of early drafts demonstrates how unique White's essays were.
E. B. White greatly expanded the limits of literary nonfiction and in the process introduced elements and methods that helped produce the contemporary segmented or disjunctive essay. From Root's research we receive new insights into the process by which White created his essays and how he was influenced—and often constrained—by particular literary forms and by the limitations of the circumstances in which he wrote them. White was famous for his habit of "writing by ear," and he believed in "writing a thing first and thinking about it afterward," work habits that led to some of the most memorable American literary essays of the twentieth century.
E. B. White: The Emergence of an Essayist is the most detailed study to date of White as an essayist and a significant contribution to the literature examining writers at work.
Fear Icons: Essays
Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel The Ohio State University Press, 2018 Library of Congress PS3619.C4235A6 2018 | Dewey Decimal 814.6
“Who are we to each other when we’re afraid?” Kisha Lewellyn Schlegel asks in Fear Icons, her moving and original debut essay collection. Her answer is a lyric examination of the icons that summon and soothe our fears. From Donald Trump to the Virgin Mary, Darth Vader to the Dalai Lama, Schlegel turns cultural criticism personal with bracing intelligence and vulnerability as she explores what it means to be human, a woman, an artist, and, in particular, a parent: what it means to love a child beyond measure, someone so vulnerable, familiar, and strange. Schlegel looks at fear and faith—the ways the two are more similar than we realize—and the many shapes our faith takes, from nationalism to friendship, from art to religious dogma. Each essay is woven through with other voices—Baldwin, Ashbery, Du Bois, Cixous—positioning Schlegel’s arguments and meditations within a diverse and dynamic literary lineage. Fear Icons is a vital and timely inquiry into the complex relationship between love and fear—and the ways that each intensifies the other.
The Grand Teton Reader
Robert W. Righter University of Utah Press, 2021 Library of Congress F767.T3G823 2021 | Dewey Decimal 978.755
Grand Teton National Park draws more than three million visitors annually in search of wildlife, outdoor adventure, solitude, and inspiration. This collection of writings showcases the park’s natural and human histories through stories of drama and beauty, tragedy and triumph.
Editor Robert Righter has selected thirty-five contributors whose work takes readers from the Tetons’ geological origins to the time of Euro-American encroachment and the park’s politically tumultuous creation. Selections range from Laine Thom’s Shoshone legend of the Snake River and Owen Wister’s essay “Great God! I’ve Just Killed a Bear,” to Grace Gallatin Seton-Thompson’s humorous yet fearful account of crossing the Snake River, and William Owen’s first attempt to climb the Grand Teton. Conservationists, naturalists, and environmentalists are also represented: Terry Tempest Williams chronicles her multiyear encounter with her “Range of Memory,” and Olaus and Mardy Murie recount the difficulties of “park-making” in an often-hostile human environment.
Anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the park’s wild beauty and controversial past will want to read these stories by people who lived it.
Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award in Nonfiction A Book of the Year pick from Kirkus, BuzzFeed, and Literary Hub
“The essays in this collection are restless, brilliant and short.…The brevity suits not just Walker’s style but his worldview, too.…Keeping things quick gives him the freedom to move; he can alight on a truth without pinning it into place.” —Jennifer Szalai, the New York Times
For the black community, Jerald Walker asserts in How to Make a Slave, “anger is often a prelude to a joke, as there is broad understanding that the triumph over this destructive emotion lay in finding its punchline.” It is on the knife’s edge between fury and farce that the essays in this exquisite collection balance. Whether confronting the medical profession’s racial biases, considering the complicated legacy of Michael Jackson, paying homage to his writing mentor James Alan McPherson, or attempting to break free of personal and societal stereotypes, Walker elegantly blends personal revelation and cultural critique. The result is a bracing and often humorous examination by one of America’s most acclaimed essayists of what it is to grow, parent, write, and exist as a black American male. Walker refuses to lull his readers; instead his missives urge them to do better as they consider, through his eyes, how to be a good citizen, how to be a good father, how to live, and how to love.
“In Mexico,” writes Ilan Stavans in the introduction to this provocative new collection on Mexican culture and politics, “[the essay] is embraced as passionately as a sport.” While the American essay may be personal and confessional or erudite and academic, it is presumed to be truthful. By contrast, the Mexican essay pushes the boundaries between fact and fiction as writers seek to make their opinions heard—in literary journals, in newspapers, and even on cereal boxes. “What is real and what isn’t in a Mexican essay, only God knows,” concludes Stavans. In Hurricanes and Carnivals, Lee Gutkind, a pioneer in the teaching of creative nonfiction, brings together fifteen essays by Mexican, Mexican American, and Latin American writers that push the boundaries of style and form, showing that navigating “truth” is anything but clear-cut. Although creative nonfiction is widely thought to be an American art form, this collection proves otherwise. By blending fact and fiction, story and fantasy, history and mythology, these writers and others push the bounds of the essay to present a vision of Mexico rarely seen from this side of the border. Addressing topics that include immigration, politics, ecology, violence, family, and sexuality, they take literary license on a whirlwind adventure. C. M. Mayo shows us Mexico City as seen through the eyes of her pug, Picadou; Juan Villoro examines modern Mexico through the lens of demography; Homero Aridjis uses the plight of nesting sea turtles to document a slowly changing Mexican attitude toward natural resources; and Sam Quinones documents the decline of beauty-queen addiction in Mazatlán and tells us about the flower festivals where, according to lore, only two things matter: hurricanes and carnivals. For readers interested in a literary view of contemporary Mexico, as well as students of the creative nonfiction genre, this volume is essential
Finalist for the Publishing Triangle's Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
You have a history, and a body. You are a history, and a body. Your body has (is) a history, too. As a girl, Julie Marie Wade was uninterested in makeup, boy-watching, and other trappings of conventional girlhood, much to her mother’s disappointment. Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe—movie stars immortalized as feminine ideals, even as they both died tragically and young—were lodestars that threw Wade’s own definition of beauty into relief as she stumbled into adulthood.
Now, in Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing, Wade traces the intimate story of coming of age in one particular body (as a lesbian, an only child, a Protestant attending Catholic school). She uses the language and tenets of music, math, religion, fairy tales, poetry, and art to reckon with the many facets of embodiment, sexuality, and love in our contemporary world. The diet industry, popular culture, and her own family all provide rich material for what is ultimately a lyrical and unflinching investigation into the questions that prickle deep within the human heart.
Creative nonfiction writers wrestle constantly with the boundaries of creative license—what to reveal, when to reveal it, and how best to do it. While the truth may inspire us to make confident assertions, secrets, lies, and half-truths inspire us to delve further into our own writing to discover the heart of the story. The pieces in this collection feature essayists who do this type of detective work. Each essay contains a secret, lie, or half-truth—some of these are revealed by the author, but others remain buried. Ranging from the deep family secret to the little white lie, from the shocking to the humorous, and from the straightforward revelation to the slanted half-truth, these essays ask us to appreciate the magnitude of keeping a secret. They also ask us to consider the obstacles writers must overcome if they want to write about secrets in their own lives and the lives of others. In short interviews following each essay the contributors discuss craft, ethics, creativity, and how they eventually decided to reveal—or not reveal—a secret.
Michele Morano The Ohio State University Press, 2020 Library of Congress PS3613.O71575A6 2020 | Dewey Decimal 814.6
Crushes. Infatuations. Attractions. Unexpected, inexplicable allure. Entanglements steeped in taboo and disruption. In Like Love, nothing is off limits.
In these remarkable essays, Michele Morano explores the pleasures, possibilities, strangeness, and lessons of unconsummated romance. With insight and imagination, Like Love interweaves poignant, humorous episodes from adulthood with the backstory of a young family’s turbulent breakup. When Morano was an adolescent in blue-collar Poughkeepsie, New York, her mother left her father for a woman in an era when LGBTQ parents were widely viewed as “unfit.” Through the turmoil, adolescent Morano paid attention, tucking away the stories that were shaping her and guiding her understanding of love.
Turning romantic clichés inside out and challenging us to rethink our notions about what it means to love, Like Love tells hard and necessary truths about the importance of desire in growing, traveling, mourning, parenting, and figuring out who you are in the world. With precision and depth, Morano explores what it means to find ourselves in relationships that are not quite—but almost—like love.
A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.
The line between poetry (the delicate, surprising not-quite) and the essay (the emphatic so-there!) is thin, easily crossed. Both welcome a deep mulling-over, endlessly mixing image and idea and running with scissors; certainly each distrusts the notion of premise or formulaic progression. Marianne Boruch’s essays in The Little Death of Self emerged by way of odd details or bothersome questions that would not quit—Why does the self grow smaller as the poem grows enormous? Why does closure in a poem so often mean keep going? Must we stalk the poem or does the poem stalk us until the world clicks open?
Boruch’s intrepid curiosity led her to explore fields of expertise about which she knew little: aviation, music, anatomy, history, medicine, photography, fiction, neuroscience, physics, anthropology, painting, and drawing. There’s an addiction to metaphor here, an affection for image, sudden turns of thinking, and the great subjects of poetry: love, death, time, knowledge. There’s amazement at the dumb luck of staying long enough in an inkling to make it a poem at all. Poets such as Keats, Stevens, Frost, Plath, Auden, and Bishop, along with painters, inventors, doctors, scientists, composers, musicians, neighbors, friends, and family—all traffic blatantly or under the surface—and one gets a glimpse of such fellow travelers now and then.
Any landscape has an unseen component: a subjective component of experience, memory, and narrative which people familiar with the place understand to be an integral part of its geography but which outsiders may not suspect the existence of—unless they listen and read carefully. This invisible landscape is make visible though stories, and these stories are the focus of this engrossing book.
Traveling across the invisible landscape in which we imaginatively dwell, Kent Ryden—himself a most careful listener and reader—asks the following questions. What categories of meaning do we read into our surroundings? What forms of expression serve as the most reliable maps to understanding those meanings? Our sense of any place, he argues, consists of a deeply ingrained experiential knowledge of its physical makeup; an awareness of its communal and personal history; a sense of our identity as being inextricably bound up with its events and ways of life; and an emotional reaction, positive or negative, to its meanings and memories.
Ryden demonstrates that both folk and literary narratives about place bear a striking thematic and stylistic resemblance. Accordingly, Mapping the Invisible Landscape examines both kinds of narratives. For his oral materials, Ryden provides an in-depth analysis of narratives collected in the Coeur d'Alene mining district in the Idaho panhandle; for his consideration of written works, he explores the “essay of place,” the personal essay which takes as its subject a particular place and a writer's relationship to that place.
Drawing on methods and materials from geography, folklore, and literature, Mapping the Invisible Landscape offers a broadly interdisciplinary analysis of the way we situate ourselves imaginatively in the landscape, the way we inscribe its surface with stories. Written in an extremely engaging style, this book will lead its readers to an awareness of the vital role that a sense of place plays in the formation of local cultures, to an understanding of the many-layered ways in which place interacts with individual lives, and to renewed appreciation of the places in their own lives and landscapes.
The Painted Forest
Krista Eastman West Virginia University Press, 2019 Library of Congress PS3605.A855A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 814.6
Council for Wisconsin Writers, Norbert Blei/August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award winner
In this often-surprising book of essays, Krista Eastman explores the myths we make about who we are and where we’re from. The Painted Forest uncovers strange and little-known “home places”—not only the picturesque hills and valleys of the author’s childhood in rural Wisconsin, but also tourist towns, the “under-imagined and overly caricatured” Midwest, and a far-flung station in Antarctica where the filmmaker Werner Herzog makes an unexpected appearance.
The Painted Forest upends easy narratives of place, embracing tentativeness and erasing boundaries. But it is Eastman’s willingness to play—to follow her curiosity down every odd path, to exude a skeptical wonder—that gives this book depth and distinction. An unlikely array of people, places, and texts meet for close conversation, and tension is diffused with art, imagination, and a strong sense of there being some other way forward. Eastman offers a smart and contemporary take on how we wander and how we belong.
In June 2015, Bree Newsome scaled the flagpole in front of South Carolina’s state capitol and removed the Confederate flag. The following month, the Confederate flag was permanently removed from the state capitol. Newsome is a compelling example of a twenty-first-century woman rhetor, along with bloggers, writers, politicians, activists, artists, and everyday social media users, who give new meaning to Aristotle’s ubiquitous definition of rhetoric as the discovery of the “available means of persuasion.” Women’s persuasive acts from the first two decades of the twenty-first century include new technologies and repurposed old ones, engaged not only to persuade, but also to tell their stories, to sponsor change, and to challenge cultural forces that repress and oppress.
Persuasive Acts: Women’s Rhetorics in the Twenty-First Century gathers an expansive array of voices and texts from well-known figures including Hillary Rodham Clinton, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Lindy West, Sonia Sotomayor, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so that readers may converse with them, and build rhetorics of their own. Editors Shari J. Stenberg and Charlotte Hogg have complied timely and provocative rhetorics that represent critical issues and rhetorical affordances of the twenty-first century.
Thomas Hauser is well known to readers as Muhammad Ali's biographer and for his recording of the contemporary boxing scene. But Hauser began his writing career in the political arena as the author of Missing, a novel later made into an AcademyAward-winning film starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. He has written books on subjects as diverse as public education, moral values, and Chernobyl, and his articles have appeared in publications ranging from the New Yorker to Penthouse. Reflections brings together all of Hauser's articles on subjects other than sports. The book begins with a never-published essay on the Beatles. It then takes readers on a remarkable journey that moves from an exploration of racism, religion, and other hot-button political issues to personal memories and reflections on the origins of Santa Claus and the Tiffany box. Combining personal memories with issue-oriented commentary, Reflections creates a portrait of some of the most remarkable people and most compelling issues of our time.
This One Will Hurt You
Paul Crenshaw The Ohio State University Press, 2019 Library of Congress PS3603.R458A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 814.6
The powerful essays in Paul Crenshaw’s This One Will Hurt You range in subject matter from the fierce tornadoes that crop up in Tornado Alley every spring and summer to a supposedly haunted one-hundred-year-old tuberculosis sanatorium that he lived on the grounds of as a child. They ruminate on the effects of crystal meth on small southern towns, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, and the ongoing struggle of being a parent in an increasingly disturbing world. They surprise, whether discovering a loved one’s secret, an opossum’s motivation, or the unexpected decision four beer-guzzling, college-aged men must make. They tell stories of family and the past, the histories of small things such as walls and weather, and the faith it takes to hold together in the face of death.
With eloquence, subtle humor, and an urgent poignancy, Crenshaw delivers a powerful and moving collection of nonfiction essays, tied together by place and the violence of the world in which we live.
Winner of the 2019 Gournay Prize
“What are these fragments we’ve Jersey Shored against our ruin?” asks M. I. Devine, remixing T. S. Eliot, in this dizzying collection of essays that pays homage to the cultural forms that hold us steady. These fragments are stored in Warhol’s Mother’s Pantry, which takes us deep beneath the surfaces of pop to explore our shared quest for meaning today. Julia Warhola, an immigrant who arrived as the US was closing its borders a century ago, is the muse of reuse in these essays that cross boundaries—between now and then, high and low. She is the mom in pop who cut tin cans into flowers and taught Andy (and us) how to reshape and redeem our world. In essays as lyrical, witty, and experimental as the works they cover, Devine offers a new account of pop humanism. How we cut new things from the traditions we’re given, why we don’t stop believin’ (and carry on, wayward sons) when so much is stacked against us. Here are Leonard Cohen’s last songs and Molly Bloom’s last words; Vampire Weekend’s Rostam and Philip Larkin too; Stevie Smith, John Donne, and Kendrick Lamar; sonnets and selfies; early cinema and post–9/11 film, pop hooks, and pop art. In Devine’s hands, these literary and cultural artifacts are provocatively reassembled into an urgent and refreshing history that refuses to let its readers forget where pop came from and where it can go.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? BREAKING THE WHITE CODE OF SILENCE, A COLLECTION OF PERSONAL NARRATIVES, asks just that. The first of its kind, this collection of 82 personal narratives reflects a vibrant range of stories from white Americans who speak frankly and openly about race, not only as it applies to people of color, but as it applies to themselves. The stories cover a wide gamut of American history from contributors around the United States; from reminiscing about segregation and Jim Crow, to today's headlines of police brutality, politics and #BlackLivesMatter. The variety in style and subject matter from people of different class and employment backgrounds have one point in common–they create an absorbing and thought-provoking collection that explores race from a very personal perspective. In the telling, not only do contributors discuss their discomfort in talking about race, they also share big and small moments in their lives that have shaped what it means to be white in America, and how it affects the way they see themselves and others. In answering the question, some may offer viewpoints one may not necessarily agree with, but nevertheless, it is clear that each contributor is committed to answering it as honestly as possible. An invaluable starting point that includes a glossary and a bibliography of suggested reading, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE WHITE IN AMERICA? is highly recommended for students, teachers and anyone else interested in seeking a deeper and richer understanding of race in America.
What is life about but the continuous posing of the questions: what happens next, and what do we make of it when it arrives? In these highly evocative personal essays, Douglas Bauer weaves together the stories of his own and his parents’ lives, the meals they ate, the work and rewards and regrets that defined them, and the inevitable betrayal by their bodies as they aged.
His collection features at its center a long and memory-rich piece seasoned with sensory descriptions of the midday dinners his mother cooked for her farmer husband and father-in-law every noon for many years. It’s this memoir in miniature that sets the table for the other stories that surround it—of love and bitterness, of hungers served and denied. Good food and marvelous meals would take on other revelatory meanings for Bauer as a young man, when he met, became lifelong friends with, and was tutored in the pleasures of an appetite for life by M. F. K. Fisher, the century’s finest writer in English on “the art of eating,” to borrow one of her titles.
The unavoidable companion of the sensual joys of food and friendship is the fragility and ultimately the mortality of the body. As a teenager, Bauer courted sports injuries to impress others, sometimes with his toughness and other times with his vulnerability. And as happens to all of us, eventually his body began to show the common signs of wear—cataracts, an irregular heartbeat, an arthritic knee. That these events might mark the arc of his life became clear when his mother, a few months shy of eighty-seven, slipped on some ice and injured herself.
In these clear-eyed, wry and graceful essays, Douglas Bauer presents with candor and humor the dual calendars of his own mortality and that of his aging parents, evoking the regrets and affirmations inherent in being human.