Every fall, we have the true pleasure of publishing the winning story of the Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. This year, it’s Katie M. Flynn’s “Island Rule,” in which an environmental biology professor is haunted by memories of the surreally accelerated evolution and ensuing political violence that expelled her, as a child, from her island home. Final judge Richard Bausch calls it “a very strange, audaciously original and convincing story that arrives at metaphor; it partakes of Kafka, being so matter-of-factly realistic.” It’s a wonderful, daring story, richly deserving of the prize.
Among the other fine stories in this issue is Mike Alberti’s “Summer People”: in Vietnam War–era upstate New York, a young girl grapples with the death of her brother in a childhood accident and finds solace in friendship, academics, and, later, the grace of second chances. Kristen Roupenian’s “The Night Runner” takes us to Kenya, where a well-intentioned Peace Corps volunteer from Texas chafes against both the culture and the expectations of those he hopes to serve and befriend. And D. J. Thielke’s heartbreakingly wry “Val” presents a slightly dystopian near future in which the woman behind the prevailing dating app grieves over the consequences of an ironic mistake that has cost her dearly.
In the nonfiction section, Jennifer Itell’s meditative “Moonwalk” braids varieties of drought, the relationship between body and landscape, and the difficulty of writing. Longtime contributing editor Clint McCown pays a loving tribute to his father in “A Lesson from My Father’s Suitcase,” set against the backdrop of civil rights–era Birmingham, Alabama. And in “The Grammar of Untold Stories,” Lois Ruskai Melina explores her Hungarian ancestry and considers the ways language, narrative, land, and secrets shape our family history—our sense of who we are—and “fill in the empty spaces where there should [be] stories.”
Welcome to the fall issue.
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As I write this introduction, cyclonic winds are tearing over the Atlantic, gathering, variously, dispersing, dispensing rain, havoc, darkness. Worst hurricane season on record. Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irma, Jose, Katia, Lee, Maria . . . and we’re only halfway through. In medias res. Or just in the beginning of a term. Gaia’s angry. The power’s out, no better time for poetry.
We begin this issue’s verse equally in the middle of things. Literally, by the fortune of alphabet—which has always struck me as a democratic way to organize a magazine—the Syrian poet Adonis (lucently translated by Khaled Mattawa) places us in the middle of a long sequence, in the middle of al-Quds (Jerusalem), in the middle of late Empire. But poetry resists: “Not yet. / The disaster has not arrived. / The flood has yet to burst / The Mediterranean is readying itself. / The oceans stamp and shudder.” Other world voices come to us from Aigerim Tazhi (translated by J. Kates) and Hervé Le Tellier (translated by Cole Swensen).
Such planetary captures flow through this issue, from Marielle Grenade-Willis’s “somatic dirt” to Bin Ramke’s “Atmospheric Perspective,” Jessica Reed’s “Space without Objects” to Tyrone Williams’s “Passing Goods.” End times or the next storm (it may be winter as you read this): “in the hour of the waif and wastrel / will mizzle a wilting / against stauncher tooth and tine” (Abraham Smith, from Destruction of Man).
The climatic singularity pulls equally on the body. See Joseph Lease’s haunting “Body Ghost,” Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s “A Draft,” Sarah Rose Nordgren’s “Addendum”: “And then I met the inverse of my power / which came as cancer // And it whispered open your mouth.” Or is it identity that’s imperiled? See Truong Tran’s (enraging) excerpts from The Book of Others, Joan Naviyuk Kane’s (incantatory) excerpt from “White Alice Changes Hands,” Timothy Liu’s (feral) “Against Sentimentality.” The fact is, we need it all, complexity is survival: “Only all versions together are definitive / The considerable dust they stir up lasts” (F. Daniel Rzicznek, “Radar Loop”). O taste and see.
Featured in This Issue
Adonis, Mike Alberti, Hala Alyan, John Blair, Jackson Burgess, Kate M. Flynn, John Gallaher, Marielle Grenade-Willis, Jackson Holbert, Jennifer Itell, Joan Naviyuk Kane, James Kates, Joseph Lease, Rachel Litchman, Timothy Liu, Yael Massen, Clint McCown, Lois Ruskai Melina, Sarah Rose Nordgren, Anna D. Ralls, Bin Ramke, Jessica Reed, Andrew Michael Roberts, Kristen Roupenian, F. Daniel Rzicznek, Andy Sia, Giovanni Singleton, Jonathan Skinner, Dale Smith, Abraham Smith, Cole Swensen ,Aigerim Tazhi, D. J. Thielke, Truong Tran, Jasmine Dreame Wagner, Jess Williard