Dispatches | March 12, 2007

Our archived content from past issues is, for the moment, a little hard to find.  Maybe that’s why I haven’t looked at it in awhile.  Or maybe we’ve just had such a monumental slush pile that it hasn’t crossed my mind.  But go to Content, click on Online Features, scroll down, and you’ll see, across the bottom, a list of genres to click on for access to some exceptional literature from TMR‘s past.  Most of the selections there were originally plucked from the slush pile by our editors, interns and advisors (as is most of our content for every issue).

Skimming the list of archived fiction the other day, I saw a title of a story that I particularly don’t want to forget. “Nine Worthy and the Best That Ever Were” was an Editors’ Prize winner, if memory serves me, but it was no different from most of our regular, slush-pile submissions, in that we’d never heard of the author and had no reason to notice his story over any other. Austin Ratner was a medical student at the time he entered the contest (again, if memory serves), and the story narrates the life and death of a medical student named Israel Schelde from a variety of perspectives:  omniscient, epistolary (letters and journal entries by several characters) and, finally, that of the young son left behind when Israel dies quite prematurely.

The story hit me hard when we published it, and on reading it again just recently I found it every bit as compelling.  It is heartbreakingly elegiac and at the same time narratively inventive, taking title, language, some if its structure and a general epic treatment of the protagonist Israel from Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur –– which I read in my teens and cried over, as I recall.  “Nine Worthy” didn’t hit me for those reasons only, though.  It struck and stuck with me because the events in the story were in many ways so similar to my family’s history that it was eerie. And very sad.

I’ve decided on impulse that some of our past, compelling classics deserve an award for being just that:  compelling classics.  I’ve decided to call it the Slush-Pile Gold Award. That name is a reminder of what we do a lot of around here:  mine piles of submissions (most of them really not bad) for the exceptional pieces that shine mightily. 

The award is a rather capricious enterprise, in that only the associate editor will give it-unless someone else on staff wants to fight me for the position of judge. It will be given at irregular intervals, and only to pieces that the associate editor wants to give it to.  The only requirement is that we may never have heard of the author prior to accepting his/her work for publication.

My choice for the first (irregular) Slush-Pile Gold Award is Austin Ratner’s story.  Please take the time “Nine Worthy and the Best That Ever Were.”  You’ll be rewarded by the read.