From Our Staff | September 27, 2007

Our Editors’ Prize winners in the Essay category have pretty much been about serious subjects.  We’ve given the prize to heartfelt elegiac memoirs about parents, childhood or the quasi-mythical ’60s.  We’ve given it to tense, scary essays about grueling medical dramas. We’ve given it to indignant travel essays about American ethnocentrism. To heroic narratives about teaching in the ghetto or on the reservation. We’ve given it to essays about faith–both the questioning kind and the orthodox variety.  I’ve wracked my brains trying to think of humorous essays that have won, however, and I only come up with one:  Jeff Hammond’s 2005 winner “Bad Scouts and Nervous Indians.”

In this smart, funny memoir, Hammond writes about not being Boy Scout material in a decade (the ’50s) when all boys were supposed to be.  The tone is just right:  Hammond doesn’t want us to pity him; he doesn’t really make fun of himself. It’s an honest depiction of a younger Jeff Hammond who dislikes group membership and shies away from the prospect of industriously tying knots. At heart, Hammond is a little too lazy, a little too skeptical, to be a good scout. Scouting’s loss is our gain, though, and among the ranks of (very fine) earnest Editors’ Prize winning essays, “Bad Scouts and Nervous Indians” stands out as the funny renegade.