In a rut? Need a break from the regular story-poetry-essay journal form? This unpretentious little mag takes you beyond the three genres. Published by Michigan State University, Fourth Genre dedicates all of its nearly 200 pages to narrative nonfiction—from personal essays to travel and nature writing to literary journalism—and has, since its 1999 inception, earned four Pushcarts and generated its own thick anthology. Though the quality is obvious from a quick flip-through, each issue merits extended quiet time in your favorite chair.
In the memoir “The Boy Who Didn’t Like Money,” a surprise call from an accountant leaves young Mort Zachter sated on the truth of his uncle’s seemingly impoverished life. The whole tone is playful and engaging, with sharp lines like “Mom doled out information as if it was sugar and the world was in a diabetic coma” and “Well into the Reagan administration, they wore suits dating back to the New Deal.” Essayist Barbara Hurd weaves merman mythology with natural and local history to birth a stellar piece of nature writing that brings to life the cold North Sea and human need for imagination, order, and meaning. After three months covering the war in Afghanistan and brief stints back home in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, J. Malcolm Garcia travels to Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. The result is as vibrant and haunting a piece of personal narrative journalism as you’d find in the glossies.
Writing by Geeta Kothari, Meredith Hall, Donna George Storey, and Deborah Tall round out this issue along with a riveting interview with wide-ranging journalist Vivian Gornick and the mag’s regular full-length and capsule book reviews. Keep a pen handy; you’ll want to add some of these titles to your need-to-read list. This section is always rich with hidden treasures.
Fourth Genre is the Paris Review of nonfiction journals, minus the flashy covers and board of directors.
Fourth Genre Volume 8 Number 2, Fall 2006 reviewed by Aaron Gilbreath