Richard Hoffman

Nonfiction Editor’s Note

Dear reader,

Friends call and say, “What a strange time!” or to ask “How are you?” I hardly know what say. I’m sure you know what I mean. I always thought I would revel in being housebound – all these books to read! All these pages to fill! But this? This is the paralyzing fight or flight moment when you can do neither, and the longer you stay in that moment the more numb and vacant you become. And so, I am especially grateful to these essayists for breaking that dark spell.

Like Alicia Googins in her exquisite short essay,”Walden,” we may find – such is my hope – that on the far shore some understanding is waiting for us, a clarity that most often eludes us.

If there is a lesson to be taken from this crisis, it lies in recalibration, in the redefinition of what is essential. Each in their own way, the essays assembled here explore that question. Each strives for clarity. Elizabeth Foulke’s “Like the Movies,” for example, conducts a troubling, honest, and comprehensive inquiry into empathy at the crossroads of eros and ethics.

As if prophesying our moment, JennyMae Kho writes,”Nature is out of our control the universe unfurls around us in dimensions that we can barely begin to imagine,” while Robert Stothard, who quite rightly calls his essay “a landscape” tipped me, relieved and grateful, into profound reflections that nourished me during this frightening time.

Of the all the essays here, “Deep Waters” by Lisa Ohlen Harris, has probably the most direct bearing on this fearful moment in its exploration of preparedness, upheaval, resilience.

I have never read a better, more complex, redolent, and thoughtful portrait of a changing neighborhood than Bonnie Costello’s “Address,” nor can I think of a moment when her understanding that “you can’t stay immune to the lives of others” is more important than right now.

Helena Rho’s inquiry, an unflinching examination of family ties, identity, custom, and culture, brings us back to the one reliable way we have to stay connected: language.

I hope you find these essays as bracing to your spirit as I have. And I hope that you and all those you love remain safe and healthy.

And, finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Nonfiction editorial team: Cassandra Goldwater; Amy Grier; Jill Johnson; and Assistant Nonfiction Editor, Amy Yelin.

And, as always, please take the opportunity to comment. Our authors and editors appreciate your responses.

Richard Hoffman


Join the conversation