Richard Hoffman

Nonfiction Editor’s Note

In the broadest sense, the four essays collected in this issue are about identity — about how we situate ourselves in relation to the larger historical, economic, political, and cultural reality in which we find ourselves.

In Zibiquah Denny’s “The Takeover,” for example, we see the inspiriting impact of adult courage on a young person who, in a thrilling act of communal political rebellion, finds a deeply spiritual identity strengthened by the audacity and steadfastness of her elders.

Denny’s account feels to me like the very opposite of the impact of an adult’s predation amid the silence of others that Richard Jeffrey Newman experiences in his devastating essay that chronicles the difficulty of making meaning of boyhood sexual violation, a difficulty abetted by the larger cultural denial of its frequency, impact, and intersection with masculinity as it is generally (mis)understood.

Alexis Lathem traces and helps us grasp the connections between the morphing of the farm as it was generally understood into a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) as agribusiness colonizes not only land but lives. Teaching English to migrant farmworkers, Lathem connects the dots from personal experience to cultural tropes, to economics and public policy and back, again and again, in an essay deeply rooted in her meticulously observed Vermont life.

Lena (Sunada-Matsumura) Newlin, in “Half Empty, Half Full,” experiments with the concept of “halfness” as much more than a fraction, much more than a falling short, and in doing so plumbs the emotional dimensions of her identity as a mixed-race person. A searching essay, the yearning for an elusive clarity is palpable in it, and its flashes of insight are exhilarating.

It is a convention (or maybe a bad habit) to introduce each essay in brief like this in an editor’s note, and I worry that these thumbnails, necessarily sifted through my concerns and ability to summarize, do not do justice to the fine work of these writers. I have learned a great deal from reading these four essays. You will too. Ignore me, my descriptions, my attempts at synopsis, and read them.


— Richard Hoffman

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