“Don’t write like a girl. Don’t write like a boy. Write like a mother#^@%*&,” the Rumpus columnist “Sugar” advised young writer Elissa Bassist in 2010. Bassist took the advice to heart, making it into an “anthem and a lifestyle” that is about “quitting your bitching, getting out of your own ego, and getting to work.” Three years later, she and “Sugar”—now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things, extend the discussion in an email conversation that appropriately kicks off this powerful collection of work by women writers.
The strength of the essays in this issue lies not only in good writing but in the research that makes it worth reading. For example, in “The Collection,” Mary Quade draws on her high school bug collection, her experience growing up Lutheran, and, years later, a visit to thousand-year-old churches in Turkey. The churches hint at Christianity’s often violent past. Her Lutheran pastor turns out to have been a sexual adventurer, although not with her. And she arrives at some very honest conclusions about her earnest young self and the extent to which she was willing to kill to succeed. “I put dozens of insects in the killing jar, pulled them out dead, and displayed them on pins. True bugs or not, they weren’t saved, and neither was I.”
Similar marriages of research and memoir occur in Danielle R. Spencer’s “Looking Back” and in Elizabeth Mosier’s “The Pit and the Page.” An examination for a “wayward eye” takes a stunning turn for Spencer when evidence turns up that a childhood stroke has severely limited her vision. “Not many people experience something like this,” her internist tells her, “to learn that what you thought was the world is, in fact, only half of it.” Mosier’s essay alternates accounts of her work as a volunteer at an archeology laboratory with her painful experience caring for her demented mother, “who is dying slowly and furiously.”
Other strong essays in this issue are “The Memory Train” by Sara Dailey, “Elk Country” by Marissa Landrigan, “Regeneration” by Brenda Miller, and “Far, Far Away” by Pria Anand. The last is a fascinating piece about an informal “signing community” among deaf residents of a remote Caribbean island—a community whose limitations and safety are both affected by a rapidly encroaching larger world.
As it has since its founding in 1993 by Lee Gutkind, Creative Nonfiction continues to lead the parade of writers who “write like a mother#^@%*&” while producing “true stories, well told.”