Dispatches | February 07, 2007

I’m sitting at my desk, contemplating the difficulties of authors getting their work published in The Missouri Review — or any literary magazine for that matter — and true to form, one of our editors walks into my office and tells me why he doesn’t feel compelled to publish an essay I had recommended. The essay upheld the ideas of hard work, honesty, and pride in a job well done.

One of our other editors had also liked it a great deal; another senior reader was not so thrilled. What one reader found to be a strength, another viewed as weakness. It was skillfully written, all agreed, but according to some, in a too-idealized manner. I think it is very difficult to write upbeat, hopeful essays — or to write about values that may no longer be regarded as laudatory. To write about pain, disappointment, and injustice — bountifully supplied by life — makes for more interesting subject matter.

My larger point, however, is that we all bring our particular likes and dislikes to our reading, not to mention our own definition of creative nonfiction. One reader may especially find attractive those essays that read like a short story, dismissing the reflective I as “navel-gazing.” Another finds narrative journalism most appealing. Or researched essays. Or small-moment pieces. I’ve given up predicting which essays will make it into the magazine — there is no typical TMR essay.

For me, I am first captivated by an author’s language, the use of metaphor, the control of the sentence. The mix of narrative and summary. A certain intimacy and credibility conveyed to the reader. The intelligence behind the writing. And ultimately, I want the author to offer a bit of wisdom, a fresh insight, a provocative question. This, I believe, is the most difficult thing to achieve, and for an essayist, the scariest requirement.

For our readers, know that we scour our submissions to bring you the best essays, fiction, and poetry. For authors who submit to us, we are looking closely at your writings, proposing and defending our selections. A note of rejection from us doesn’t mean the piece didn’t have great merit — keep sending that piece out. Keep sending your work to us. Good writing will find a home.

What about the essay mentioned at the beginning of this blog? We’ll let it sit for a week, meet again to weigh in with our opinions, and make a final decision at that time.

In the meantime, if anyone has a favorite “upbeat” essay — one that I might find anthologized or online — let me know through your comments.