Fall 2014: The Umbrella of Fact and Fiction
This stellar issue on the prismatic form of the essay will yield, we hope, many a-ha moments for our readers. But with two bloody good stories (you’ll see what we mean) by our inimitable friend, Susan Engberg, and by newcomer from the UK, Michael Humfrey, and 35 pages of incredible verse (more on this below)—the final release of our 122nd year is more than powerful nonfiction: under the editors’ eyes it has become a greatest hits of sorts, exemplifying the manifold strengths of this quarterly.
Hawkins was the cold always at our backs as we sat facing the fire, the cold that hovered in the dark rooms of the house and reached out as the fire died and we turned out the lights for the day. The cold old men feel when they sit summer evenings in wool sweaters, rubbing fingers that always hurt.
—Gerald L. Smith, “Whittling at the Edges of Childhood”
Reading the essays under this “umbrella of fact and fiction” by Maurice L. Goldsmith, Paul J. Lindholdt, Gerald L. Smith, and Christopher Thornton, it’s hard not to hear whispers of an accidental conversation on race and violence across many generations, borders, and cultures. And in fact, Ann E. Berthoff looks at the faltering art of conversation and how its revival will only be found in an appreciation of the silences that run through and around a good back and forth. Don’t miss the glittering gems studded throughout this issue on the history of ballooning, the history of sports in America as seen through the long career of veteran sportswriter Fred Russell, and a survey of fashion and its lack since the thirties by our own Beau Brummell, Robert Lacy.
This fall’s State of Letters section could be retitled the State of Lettered Lives, as contributors write about their interests in and intersections with the trajectories of the lives of a historian (Bertram Wyatt-Brown), a travel writer (Patrick Leigh Fermor), a memoirist (Margaret Terry Chanler), and the essayist Joseph Addison. Reviewers present recent work by or about some of the best nonfiction writers of our time—Joseph Epstein, Penelope Fitzgerald, and Floyd Skloot—as well as engaging the nonfiction apparatus around two powerhouses of American fiction, Robert Penn Warren and Ernest Hemingway—their letters and the daily rituals (superstitious and otherwise) of their writing lives and others.
Then came the sheep’s-milk yogurt so thick it could be cut with a knife. . . . She bathed it in Greek honey. From her pocket she gave us almonds and dried figs. The sun bathed us. She sat and began to sing. She was happy.
—Kathryn Starbuck, “Singing for Patrick Leigh Fermor”
But I have to say one of the sweetest surprises of this fall issue is the rather understated presentation of eighteen (!!!) poems by Wendell Berry, the newest installment in his Sabbath series. Since 1979 Mr. Berry has been writing poems in consonance with solitary Sunday walks on his farm in Kentucky, and even though a large volume of his collected and new Sabbath poems came out just last fall with Counterpoint (reviewed in our next issue), these even newer Sabbath poems show there’s no slowing down for Wendell Berry. It is with equal honor and delight that we also present the poems of Robert Buffington, Ron De Maris, Peter Filkins, William Logan, Peter Makuck, Wesley McNair, and Thomas Zemsky.