THE GENRE OF RESISTANCE
Debut literary nonfiction of 2018.
IT’S a good time to write nonfiction. Not just in terms of its popularity—though it’s exciting to see so many debut essay collections and literary memoirs being published by small and large presses alike—but because it’s a genre that can serve as something of a torchlight in an increasingly dark world. In a time of uncertainty, anger, and fear, of divisive discourse and troubling politics—the kind that takes ready aim at the marginalized among us—essays and memoirs are forms that writers, not least those on the margins themselves, are turning toward more and more. And that makes sense: The best nonfiction writers know darkness and aren’t afraid to dig into it. They tunnel beneath the surface; they investigate and explore, open to and excited by the possibilities they might find there. And when the world is at its most bewildering, they do what they do best: They turn inward to look more fully outward. They mine the depths of their own lives in the hopes of uncovering some kind of greater truth, or even just to articulate a question that hasn’t yet been asked. Sometimes they simply try to stay a while in that space of bewilderment, in that darkness, to see what kind of light begins to emerge. In doing so they become the light themselves.
The five writers featured here—each of whom was asked to write about the stories and motivations behind their books and their paths to publication—are grappling with ideas that are fundamental to the human experience: identity and selfhood, belonging and home, and what it means to exist on this planet right now. And maybe this is the greatest hope. Telling our own stories, after all, is the best way to reach out to one another from the space that separates us: to search for a hand in the darkness, to impart empathy, to connect. As Sarah Viren puts it, literary nonfiction is a “genre of resistance.” It’s a genre that seeks, that questions, that pushes against the status quo, that attempts to uncover. It inhabits the unknown and keeps its eyes open. Ultimately, essayists and memoirists say things aloud that might otherwise go unsaid. They lift up the voices—their own and others—that we all need so badly to hear.
MELISSA FALIVENO is the senior editor of Poets & Writers