- Field Notes
It’s what you do, and the way that you do it
Last November, I received an email telling me that an essay by Alice Dreger published in March 2008 on Bioethics Forum had been chosen to appear in the annual anthology edited by Lee Gutkind and the staff of the journal Best Creative Nonfiction. In some ways, the piece, “Lavish Dwarf Entertainment,” was not really your standard bioethics fare—in fact, we asked Alice to send it after we read it on her Web site. It had never occurred to her that we might be interested. Yet Alice’s attempts to reconcile her life’s work—in her words, “getting people past anatomical stereotypes”—with that of her friend, Danny Black, a dwarf who rents his services by the hour for parties, are deeply rooted in the ethical issues we explore at The Hastings Center, in the Report, and on the Forum.
A creative narrative essay like Alice’s represents an exciting opportunity for us because it looks at theory through the concrete lens of a story, which automatically broadens its audience. Readers of the Best Creative Nonfiction anthology may not be as familiar as Forum readers with the terminology of the tongue-in-cheek question Alice has Danny pose to her academic friends at her fortieth birthday party (“Resignification or dehumanization?”), but the meat of what she’s grappling with is easy to recognize no matter what background a reader has. This is partly due to her subject matter and partly due to her talent at expressing it.
How we say what we say matters if we want anyone to listen. Our old Web site used to describe the Report with the phrase “beautiful writing”—certainly our aspiration, whether or not we always achieve it. Authors who send us work are often surprised by the amount of time we spend editing it. I think there’s an assumption that as long as a reader in the field can get the gist of the author’s idea, the job should be done. But we want what we publish to have the widest reach possible—to be of interest to those in the field but also accessible to the general reader—and so we spend a lot of time polishing the prose and sometimes even restructuring the piece. We believe the issues we take on should not be relegated to a niche in the ivory tower to be discussed by a few in the know; we want them out in the world, reaching everyone whose lives they affect.
Best Creative Nonfiction will be published by W.W. Norton in July. A look at the 2008 and 2007 editions shows that while the essays included came from an eclectic mix of publications, the vast majority of them were from respected literary magazines—Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gettysburg Review, even Harper’s. To be in that kind of company is heady stuff for the blog of a journal primarily considered scholarly reading. It’s something that I am particularly proud of. [End Page c2]