Best Nonfiction Essays

After I assigned this personal essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates during week one, most, if not all, of them changed their minds.

Coates dissects the celebrity of Kanye West by interweaving personal narrative, meticulous research, and deft cultural and political commentary.

Some differences between this ranking and my Best American Short Stories ranking: the fiction list concentrates on the top journals, while this literary nonfiction one is much more democratic, spreading the wealth of mentions and publications across a far broader span of publications. It could be because the Best American Essays lists far more special mentions than the Best American Stories, letting them highlight lesser known publications.

(If you’re into travel writing, please check out my Best Travel Writing Markets list).

2018 was chaotic, mournful, elegiac, with a seemingly unending avalanche of losses and disorienting highs and lows. In America, our moral crisis may have been years in the making, but right now, it is all especially noisy, and pronounced, with no real end to the nastiness in sight.

At the start of the year, Trump slurred Haitians while rescinding deportation protections put in place after the 2010 earthquake.I’m grateful to Zauner for illustrating this, and I want to tell her directly, I am truly sorry for your loss.I also admire Zauner for, in the midst of her grief, asking a larger question that I think many of us biracial kids contend with: what does it mean to be Asian in a body that is mixed?What magazines and journals are punching above their weight class?The big surprises for me were that River Teeth and Southwest Review were ranked so highly, and also Guernica and Normal School made amazing showings.The ranking covers the last five years (2011 – 2015), and a certain number of points are awarded for an essay appearing in the anthology, and a lesser amount is awarded for the Special Mention in the back of the journal.The Special Mentions are only tallied up for the last two years, though (2014 – 2015) because they run 10 – 15 pages and contain multitudes.After 33 years of sometimes wishing for a mom who I could talk to about matters of relationship and career, I was overcome by immense gratitude for the person she is, and along with it a sudden and distinct fear of her mortality.When I read her essay, Zauner made it okay for me to embrace these feelings, to acknowledge my shame and the precious time I have now. In an election year when all eyes were on the South, when many sought to convince themselves — with quick, easy stories — that things are better (or worse) than we thought, Imani Perry’s letter from Alabama takes the reader on a different kind of journey through the South.It’s a remarkable model for what the personal essay can accomplish.How Coates ties the personal to the societal to the universal is hard to match.


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