As we put the finishing touches on this forty-fourth issue of our venerable journal, the first issue for which we, the new editorial team, are primarily responsible, the world is plagued by coronavirus and the death and social isolation that come with it; economies are reeling, millions are out of work, and cities around the United States burn with rage at racial injustice. Each day it seems we must respond to some new affront to humanity—some of us by demonstrating and protesting, some by donating blood or money or time, others by reaching out to loved ones, by putting on masks, by heading out to work or by (not so) simply staying home. Everywhere we witness people responding to these challenges with hope and grace and goodness. We've been particularly moved by the many writers who are using the current climate to expose injustice, comfort others, and call for greater humanity—writers both amateur and professional who are using social and mass media to share their stories.
Which are some of the reasons we have mixed feelings about putting out a literary magazine in times like these. Fourth Genre 22.2 doesn't quite respond to any of the large, pressing issues of the last few months—at least not directly. Given the limitations of traditional print publishing, timeliness is not in the nature of a literary magazine such as ours. The pieces in this issue were accepted in the fall of 2019 and were written in the months and years before then. They've been in production all spring, and who knows what trouble the world may be facing by the time they finally reach readers in the fall of 2020.
And yet, because the current challenges facing the world are hardly new, and because the essay by nature tends to bridge the gap between the timely [End Page v] and the timeless, you'll find that many of the pieces published here resonate with the present turmoil. Essays on coping with the aftermath of illness, on navigating the immigrant experience, and on surviving police brutality. Essays about living in a global community, essays that reflect on the fragile world we live in, and essays on remembering loved ones lost. We also have critical discussions on the memoir as a tool for survival, and a conversation about the genre boundaries of the essay.
The pieces herein (and in so many other journals and magazines and websites in the small world of literary nonfiction) seek to establish a baseline paradigm of reflection and retrospection, a place from which we can think more clearly and respond more empathically to all situations, including those currently besetting us. And to be clear: we declare unequivocally that Black Lives Matter. Racism, systemic and individual, subtle and blatant, is a lethal sickness in our country that must be challenged and changed. Among the many ways of doing this, literature provides people with invitations to see the world in different, even better ways, and can thus shift our perceptions toward greater understanding. Creative nonfiction is at its core an artistic response to real life, where "artistic" does not mean "prettified" but "transformative." We do not see the essays and memoirs we publish as escapes from reality but engagements with it, individual attempts at making tentative, humble sense of often bad situations, efforts to make those situations better. It is our hope that they may work this magical artistic transformation and in small ways provide you with comforts, meanings, and maybe even inspirations to action, and thus they and we might all participate, even in small ways, in the work of righting so much that is wrong in the world today. [End Page vi]
Patrick Madden is one of Fourth Genre's new coeditors. His newest book of essays, Disparates, was published earlier this year by University of Nebraska Press.