- Editor's Notes
We are pleased to publish in this issue of Fourth Genre the winning entries in our First Annual Editors' Prize for Best Essay/Memoir. Congratulations to our winner Melani Martinez and to runner-up Mira Bartók. Our judge of the 2004 competition, Sue William Silverman, chose Martinez's "The Molino," a personal essay about a family-owned corn grinding machine operated out of a run-down garage turned into a kitchen. In her reader notes on "The Molino" Silverman points out how Martinez's essay "transcends mere story in its mythic rendering, even as the essay is firmly grounded in place. The Molino itself," Silverman writes, "is a metaphor for the grind of eking out a living in the tamale business run by the author's father and family. This urgent, almost breathless essay captures a culture and a time—even as the author is leaving behind the Molino and all it represents. This poetic meditation on working-class life avoids cliché and easy answers. Throughout, the reader is aware of the molino hovering—throbbing and rumbling—on each page. It is the Molino that is the true protagonist of this important essay."
Simultaneously critical and sensuous, Silverman's sharp insights into this essay by an emerging young writer remind us of the challenges and responsibilities we face at Fourth Genre as we exchange reactions to manuscripts among ourselves and our first-line readers. Reading periods are always occasions for practicing what we love most about the work of editing a literary journal: having engaging conversations about good writing.
We thought it might be interesting and useful to drop in on some other conversations our readers had over different essays that appear in the following pages.
It should come as no surprise to learn that many of our readers are drawn, first and foremost, to craft. In the case of an essay like Tom McGohey's [End Page vii] "Friday Night Fights with Mom" or Floyd Skloot's "Thinking in Circles," our readers single out the "terrific writing" that animates and carries each piece. It's like the satisfaction and joy you get listening to a fine piano solo or watching a perfect golf swing or jump shot: the pleasure of sharing a moment with a serious, dedicated practitioner. Skloot's and McGohey's essays couldn't be more different in terms of content, tone, and form. One is all narrative, the other all meditation. One moves, the other stands perfectly still. Yet they share an important link—what one of our readers called "a love of language and a love for the lushness of experience and detail the world offers."
Some of our other screeners are more likely to be taken by an essay's structure and the way a writer uses design and form. Sue Silverman, for example, felt that "the nonlinear aspect of Mira Bartók's 'Gula, Gula: Listen, Listen . . .' is organic to the unfolding of the story in ways that other such narratives are not." Another reader commented on how much he admired the way Shelly Puhak skillfully manipulates form in her essay "Hands" in order "to activate the emotional engagement of her readers."
Voice and "tone" are other issues that surface in these reading conversations. Carol A. Ellingson's "Resonance," for example, was cited for how she uses voice to "write about yearning in a way that's not cliché or expected—a tough thing to do." In "Mona's Toast"—a portrait of a self-absorbed mother—another reader admired the way Cynthia Hollenbeck strikes a balanced tone that is "understanding but not absolving toward her mother. Hollenbeck's emotional stance yields a genuine view of someone rather than idealization or demonization."
Sometimes an essay's subject flat-out grabs hold of a reader, or a writer might set off an emotional charge. Commenting on Jan Koenen's "A Starbucks State of Mind," one reader noted that "it's invigorating to read an essay that isn't afraid to actually come out and say something!" Another reader reported on how much she admired the way Kimberly Meyer ("The Nuptial Flight of the Ants . . .") could turn the...