Jeff Porter states in “A History and Poetics of the Essay,”
“Because the essay has been neglected by critics and scholars for so long, its formal and stylistic strategies—not to mention its history—cry out for attention.” (18)
It’s this cry—this plea—that inspired a group of graduate students in Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program to create The Essay Review. This journal is a response to the dearth of criticism available for the essay and exists to show academics and readers that the nonfiction essay is indeed a genre with literary merits of its own. But we did not create this journal to inter the nonfiction essay in an ivory tower; this genre is a living, changing thing that has found its way into myriad existences, and our ultimate goal is to create a canon of literary theory that will enliven essays long after their first reads.
We accept literary criticism of nonfiction, which includes discussions of the methods and poetics used in the nonfiction essay, as well as original essays that explore the realities, confusions, and identities within the genre. We will make every effort to display parts of original essays next to their critical submissions so that the texts can interact on the page. This will give every reader an equal chance at familiarizing themselves with an essay before they move on to the criticism it inspired. Although our journal will re-examine some of the canonical works of nonfiction, we also welcome criticism of new and unexplored essays whose “formal and stylistic strategies cry out for attention.” In addition, we welcome submissions that explore the historical and socio-political milieus of essayists from all over the world (see “An Essay on the Context of Essays,”).
This first issue is a collection of conversations about the essay. It addresses issues on the history, future, craft—even gender—of the nonfiction essay. Jeff Porter takes us on a journey through the existential essay, bringing us from Montaigne to David Foster Wallace and back again. David Lazar urges us to re-examine the gender of the essay, concluding that it is essentially “queer.” David Shields and Gemma de Choisy discuss the illusions of reality while Micah McCrary meditates on the brilliant, accidental nature of the form. Tim Bascom provides visual models of the creative process while Ned Stuckey-French paints a picture of the history behind twentieth century essay classics. We also include a review of a new book of nonfiction, Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere.
Thank you for picking up a copy of The Essay Review. We hope it revitalizes your interest in nonfiction essays, both new and old. Please feel free to contact me personally with your suggestions (Michal-Milstein@uiowa.edu).
Michal “Maggie” Milstein
Editor-in-Chief, The Essay Review
Iowa Arts Fellow, Nonfiction Writing Program
The University of Iowa