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Foreword The writing in this issue is about as varied as it gets. We bring you the profoundly serious, the deliriously melancholy and the jauntily comic; seasoned writers and first-timers. You'll find work set in India, the Midwest, Hollywood, Canada and the islands of St. Kilda, in the Atlantic (had you heard of them? I hadn't)—to name a few of the places the writers go. Jobs and the workplace figure largely in many of these pieces—though family forms the bedrock of others. There's a story behind every story or essay or poem, and we sometimes hear them in the course of discussing logistical matters—edits, contracts, etc.—with the authors. G.K. Wuori wrote the enigmatic "Digby Fair" in a Canadian hotel room, entirely in longhand—the only story he's written that way. Anne Miano made films before turning to fiction, and Deena Linett published two novels before she tried her hand at poetry. So at least several of the works in this issue are departures for their authors . I think it's safe to say that others mark arrivals, for the authors, at points of greater depth or articulateness or narrative agility—the small milestones toward which serious writers strive. At the heart of the issue, though, are two essays that are of a kind: William Holtz's memoir of a father ill-equipped to be a provider, and Ron Johnson's of his resilient, hard-working mother. Holtz and Johnson have pulled off a noteworthy feat in writing interestingly and significantly about their respective parents. Callous as it sounds to say so, most of the "I remember Mama (Daddy)" essays that I see among our submissions are like snapshots of one's kids: somewhat tedious and unfocused. What Holtz and Johnson give us are, on the one hand vital portraits, drawn with sympathy and precision; (I'm tempted to say "characters," so fully do they come alive on the page). Holtz's essay is additionally memorable because it depicts, albeit with some humor, the impact of America's most severe economic tragedy. The Depression shattered careers, wrenched families, changed lives, as we can't help but recall when we read the author's account of how his family struggled through its aftermath. Johnson's essay, from his book in progress about laboring people, describes the perennial hardship of blue-collar workers. Yet it was through such work, hoeing mint, that Johnson's mother, until then a housewife, came into her own and became a real person to her husband and children. Supporting her family gave her confidence and an identity beyond that of wife and mother (even earned her the right to make off-color jokes). In the end, one of the larger points to be gleaned from Johnson's essay is that in our capitalist society, legitimacy—humanness, in effect—is granted mainly to those individuals, whether men or women, who draw paychecks. The memoir—nonfiction in general—is hot these days, and that trend is reflected in the number of writing programs and workshops and institutes that are adding "creative nonfiction" to their curricula. In part this may be the result of the market being so saturated with fiction . But also it seems to reflect the genuine (not lip-service) interest many readers have now in learning about experiences that are different from their own. Is it linked to another trend we've been noticing—the increased number of good fiction writers who are working in the first person? Now, it's a commonplace that, in fiction, especially, the first-person is the mark of a beginner. At its worst, "I" can become simply a mushy, ill-defined vehicle for the author's confessions. But we can all rattle off numerous exceptions without any trouble: Dickens, Twain, Charlotte Brontë, Mary Shelley; more recently Salinger and Penn Warren; more recently still Louise Erdrich, Fay Weldon, Raymond Carver, Robert Olen Butler, Margaret Atwood. Ventriloquists all, whose vivid firstperson creations prove that in skilled hands, "I" has an authority and authenticity that are hard to equal: how can we doubt the (ostensibly) literal voice of experience? In this issue we present, unapologetically...


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