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  • Editor's Note
  • Marcia Aldrich

We don't orient individual numbers of this journal around themes—a number devoted to the experience of ethnicity in America, for example, or to labor and work. Instead, we rely on the splendid variety of whatever material comes through the mail, assembling issues from the best writing we receive. This embrace of randomness sometimes has results that look anything but random. We were once sent, in the space of a week, four essays on wrestling. So, I thought, this is the hot new topic in nonfiction. As it happened, we didn't accept any of the wrestling pieces, but what if all of them had been terrific? We would have had a difficult choice to make. Quietly publish the four essays, taking no special notice of their shared subject? Make an exception to policy, and do a special issue on . . . wrestling? (Who knows, maybe the next Norman Mailer is lurking out there, just waiting for the announcement of a body slam at Fourth Genre.)

Shortly after the wrestling onslaught, I received a query from a writer who was thinking about entering an essay in our Editors' Prize contest (now called the Michael Steinberg Essay Prize). The writer pointed out that a woman had won the contest every year. He wondered whether submitting an essay was worth his time and his 15 dollars. His question in a nutshell was, Does a man have a chance of winning this thing?

The history of winners of the contest did look, shall we say, gendered. Each year a diff erent judge had selected a woman's essay. How had that happened? The judge's charge is simple: pick the essay you think is best. Not all of the judges were women, and the pools of writers in the contests were mixed. In [End Page ix] last year's contest, from essays by a group of authors roughly 50-50 male/ female, the judge selected . . . a woman's essay. (It was "Swim, Memory" by Megan Nix, published in spring 2010; in this issue we are pleased to include the runner-up, Josh MacIvor-Andersen's "How I Learned the Gospel by Heart and Stopped Saying Damn.") Sometimes when you flip a coin it keeps coming up heads.

Because Fourth Genre does not organize issues around a theme, they don't carry special titles. But as I was assembling the table of contents for this issue, I penciled in Partial to Men at the top of the page. For a variety of reasons, men take prominence here. In addition to Josh MacIvor-Andersen's work, we have Lad Tobin's fine installment in our "Writer as Reader" series, and interviews with Ian Frazier and with Michael Steinberg, who takes a retrospective look at the history of Fourth Genre.

Sometimes randomness doesn't look random. But it will all balance out in the end, I'm confident, because we are working in a field where, fortunately, both men and women are well represented. [End Page x]



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