Richard Hoffman

Nonfiction Editor’s Note

Welcome to our Summer ’22 contest issue.

First, I want to thank our judge, Alysia Abbott, author of the moving and memorable Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and one of the best books of 2013 by The San Francisco Chronicle. A vivid, heartrending work of sustained truth-telling, the memoir chronicles her life as a child raised by a single father in San Francisco’s gay counterculture in the 1970’s. According to The New Yorker, the “memoir is funny, strange, and sweet—she remembers playing dress-up with her father’s flamboyant friends, learning about sex and gender without a mother, being immersed in art and creativity and, finally, watching as the AIDS epidemic decimated the life she knew.” If by some chance you have not read it, please take my word for it: it will shake you, touch whatever is tender in you, and leave you changed.

Of our winner, “The Lid and the Jar” by Elisha Emerson, Abbott writes:

The best essays are the ones that leave you changed, that make you think, that widen your perspective. Told in the 2nd person “The Lid and the Jar” is an intimate story about the challenges of loving someone with autism, in this writer’s case both husband and son are diagnosed as on the spectrum. But it’s more. This essay is about language and its limits. It’s about weighing the raw immediacy of the “unlabeled life” against the safety of a diagnosis, which offers a sense of order, however temporary, however flawed. I admired this narrator’s honesty, her willingness to interrogate herself and our social habits.

And about our runner-up, “Poison” by Lynda Rushing, she writes:

In paragraph one this writer immerses the reader in a world rich with voice, character and thisness. A mother on the floor shakes out powdered poison to protect her family from mu-shi, the cockroaches, large and small, that hide in the walls and beneath the phone in a humid Hawaiian home. As the essay progresses, we learn the history of the author’s parents, an army boy from Mississippi and the young Japanese woman, with limited English, he takes as his bride. We think we know where this story is going, but characters deepen and surprise us. Who is the poisoner? Who is the poisoned? I was sorry when this story came to a close and sincerely hope it’s but a taste of a longer work to come.

Along with our finalists, editor’s picks, and additional contributions, this issue features a gathering of compelling voices trying to rouse us from complacency, to do the work that Eduardo Galeano once said was ¡Ayudar a ver!to help us to see. All the essays here are unafraid to ask the questions that a commitment to clear-sightedness encounters. Each one, in its own way, affirms the importance of bearing witness, and then doing the work of finding the words, crafting the sentences, composing the paragraphs, that will move us, reposition us, situate us, and help us — to imagine, to empathize, to question — to see.

Join the conversation