One of my favorite jobs as the Creative Nonfiction Editor at Connotation Press is to select, for our August retrospective issue, the best writers I’ve published over the past twelve months. As much as I enjoy making these “best of” selections, it’s never an easy process, because the reason I published all of my writers to begin with was because I thought all of their essays were excellent.
And so I take a kind of arduous joy in crunching my brain in order to arrive at the “best of the best.” These are the results for the past year:
Is it a transgressive act to write about an antisocial—even a criminal—act? I think not. Some readers might be offended by “That Thing.” As well they should be, though it be no fault of the author, B. Yvette Yun. She was, after all, the victim here.
Another short and powerful piece comes from Kerin Sommer, whose “Unadorned” is about family dynamics, self-image, and the challenges that women sometimes face in thinking about the female body. Sommer writes courageously and honestly about a subject that isn’t too often talked about.
I was strongly affected by “Melk,” by Eddie Blatt. It is a Holocaust story. The Holocaust is of course a vast subject area, populated with millions of powerful and individual stories, most of which have never been told to the world at large. This is one such story, revealed to us for the first time.
For the past 71 months, I’ve worked as a caregiver in my parents’ home. For 45 months, I cared for my mother, and I continue to care for my father. Losing my mom a year and a half ago was one of the most traumatic losses I’ve ever suffered. Thus, I’m always interested in stories that explore similar terrain. “Last Hours,” by Gail Peck, is one such tale, and it will touch you deeply.
This year I celebrated 40 years as a writer. It’s not unusual for people to begin writing in their early teens. Sooner or later you stop thinking of the literary life solely as an avocation and begin to consider, to a degree that may vary over the years, the business aspects of writing and publishing. The always interesting Andrew Tonkovich gives us “The Business of Literature: The Cost of Being a Writer,” which anyone who practices or follows the literary arts will find intelligent, enjoyable, and illuminating.
One of the reasons it’s so much fun to publish new, young writers is because they can surprise you in ways you’ve never been surprised before. I give you “Johnnie Walker” by Christian Kim. Kim had me at the first line: “I hate Canada, where my father lives with a woman I have never met.” There are people who’ve been writing for thirty years who can’t get you with the first line.
It’s not often that I come across a piece like Michael Lacare’s “Claire.” Lacare’s work presents itself to us fully formed, as though it has always existed, as though there isn’t one syllable’s worth of revision that could improve it. There’s a level of accomplishment here that one associates with “established” literary names, and to have found this piece one day just sitting there in my slush pile, waiting for me to read it and be amazed by it, has been nothing short of extraordinary. You should remember the name—Michael Lacare—I think you’ll be hearing it again.
I must say the same for Jennifer Nelson, who asks us to “Give Me a Chance.” Nelson is a very confident and open writer, unafraid to take a risk—she is, in other words, very much like her portrait of herself in this personal essay. She doesn’t care what her daughter thinks. She doesn’t care what the people back home think. She doesn’t care what the locals in Morocco think. For all I know, she doesn’t care what I think. But I am going to say it anyway: We need more people and more writers like Jennifer Nelson in this world.
Finally, I’m always looking for new essays to publish. I invite you to submit nonfiction on a topic of your choice. I’m looking for creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, memoirs, and personal essays—with the understanding that these categories often overlap. Up to 10,000 words. Please submit work directly to me at [email protected]. I look forward to reading your work—and who knows, you may even find yourself honored next year in my “best of” column!
Robert Clark Young has worked as a caregiver in his parents’ home since 2008. He is seeking a publisher for his book, THE SURVIVOR: How to Deal With Your Aging Parents, While Enriching Your Own Life. Visit his other books and writings here. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible donation to his father’s eldercare fund, please visit here or use the PayPal address [email protected]. Thank you.