On January 16, 1870, the New York Times published a brief article—no more than a few hundred words—describing a “meteorological phenomena” that occurred above my town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “The night was very clear,” the unattributed reporter wrote, “the stars shining brightly; but the mysterious light came out in a broad circular spot and spread slowly,”—wait for it—“like the moonlight coming through a cloud or the reflection of a prairie fire, putting out the stars nearest to it.”
My mother tells me that if I want the novel I’m writing to be a bestseller in America, I should put in a couple of ghosts. Americans love ghosts, especially Chinese ghosts. I stammer back that I’m not selling out, and that I will never write about ghosts, Chinese or otherwise. “Remember the fortune cookies you used to get all the time?” she says. “They said, ‘Listen to your mother.’” “I only got that fortune three times,” I reply. “Three times in one year,” she says, wrapping up the conversation.
Many environmentalist-minded readers believe the nature writer of today’s turbulent, climate-changing times should function as both artist and activist. If David Gessner’s All the Wild That Remains (Norton, April 2015) is any indicator, the modern nature writer indeed should embody both roles—and could even expand his or her repertoire and master memoir, essay, biography, travelogue, and/or literary criticism. Via these and more seamlessly braided forms, Gessner’s book calls readers to action, inspiring outdoors-appreciating-yet-non-activist readers like myself, for instance, to question our own sense of place in this world.
Julian Barnes once called writing across gender the “one basic test of competence.” This clearly isn’t basic: look how often movies, Hollywood and art-house alike, consistently fail the Barnes (not to mention the Bechdel) test. Whenever another disappointing, one-dimensional female character waltzes onscreen (from Grace Kelly in Rear Window to Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis), I know the first thing my partner will say afterward: well, that was obviously made by a man. Which is to say: what we just saw wasn’t an authentic person, let alone woman.
Andrew D. Cohen tries going back to the Old Country, Laura Glen Louis sings—and meditates on—Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Piotr Florczyk reviews the recent work of Jane Hirschfield, Mark Gustafson delineates the young Robert Bly in an unlikely gathering of his contemporaries in 1975.
Fiction from Ethan Chatagnier, Alison Hagy, Jane E. Martin, Matthew Pitt, Debbie Urbanski.
Poetry from Jim Daniels, Martín Espada, Katie Hartsock, Dennis Hinrichsen, L. S. Klatt, Lance Larsen, Cintia Santana, Diane Seuss.