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About her prizewinning essay, Cynthia Coffel says, "I wrote 'Letters to David' shortly after reading Joan Didion's essay 'Goodbye to All That.' I identified with the speaker in that essay, even though I'm not a Californian who spent her twenties working in magazine publishing in New York City. I think that writers want readers to respond to their work as I did to Didion's essay. You want your writing to resonate in readers' minds and help them see their own lives in new ways. Didion's essay helped me see my twenties as being all of a piece, and I identified with the loss of faith she describes, that disillusionment, that shift in values that happens (it happened to me, at least) when you move from your twenties into your thirties. So I wrote my own essay that says good-bye to youth.
"I wanted, in my essay, to honor the generous impulse of my twenties—working to help all those poor people, trying to make our country better—and I also wanted to treat that impulse lightly, to admit that it was mixed up with arrogance and exuberance and naiveté. I also wanted to honor my friendship with the man I've called David. I think that kind of friendship is one you can only have at a certain point in your life.
"I believe that the personal essay, with its exact descriptions of the raggedness of life, can achieve a directness, an interiority and a strangeness that—for me, anyway—fiction can't quite match."
Cynthia Coffel will complete her PhD in language, literacy and culture at the University of Iowa this semester. Her educational research has appeared in Reader and the ALAN Review.