We enter our 75th year true to our mission, with three newer voices in fiction – Olufunke Grace Bankole, Ryan Clary, and Stephanie Powell Watts, who have no books yet but surely will – and one voice established and admired – a poet, essayist, and storyteller – Paul Zimmer…The same variety occurs among the poets and essayists – each generation of literary writer offering hope that we need not stay in the realm of ideology or ideas, but can move to something deeper, more human, more fun.
So writes editor Robert Stewart. He is writing about the work literature and writers must do to “confront humanity” with a “focus on the reality that saves everything: specific people and their circumstances.” The idea of a literary reality that saves everything is certainly an appealing and hopeful one, and I think it’s fair to say that New Letters has contributed a great deal toward making the world, if not more real, more bearable.
If this issue is any indication, New Letters is heading into its next three quarters of a century gracefully and powerfully. Stewart is most definitely right about the “newer” fiction voices whose strong stories are satisfying, original, and smart. What these stories have in common is uncommonly good beginnings, shapely sentences that propel their narratives forward naturally and easily and which sustain my interest, as well as uncanny timing.
These good stories are joined by three exceptional essays, the potent poems (muscular language, images that pop and sizzle, nothing soft or fluffy, no velvet edges) of eight poets, an interview with Thomas E. Kennedy (who contributes one of the essays), a half dozen reviews and commentary, and photographs by Michael Sinclair, Eli Reichman, and Margie Hemley. One of my favorite contributions is Robin Hemley’s essay “Field Notes for the Graveyard Enthusiast,” a model of perfect essay-making, just the right relationship between a personal voice and a personal story connected to a larger world view. And I can’t close this review without mentioning the artwork – outstanding color and black and white photographs which do precisely what Stewart describes in his editor’s note, the work of capturing specific people in specific circumstances with exquisite precision, the kind of precision that is as much about imagination as it is about reality. Congratulations to New Letters on 75 brilliant years, and here’s to 75 more.