Responding With Weapons to Racism in Colorado Territory

The American West was filled with people with pistols and places to hide, and many vigilantes’ violence and escapes made them legendary. California’s Joaquin Murrieta is one of the most famous, but Colorado Territory had its own, though nowadays, few remember them. For 5280 magazine, Robert Sanchez narrates the bloody tale of Felipe and Vivián Espinosa, two Hispano settlers whose presence in Colorado’s San Luis Valley predates American ownership of the region, and he reexamines their motives. Seven thousand Spanish descendents moved into the San Luis Valley before territorial annexation, but as soon as Mexican ownership was transfered to the United States, the white settlers and legislators started creating problems, and some Hispano settlers retaliated. History either erased the Espinosas and their Hispanic communities, or they framed the brothers as what Sanchez describes as “Spanish-speaking, sociopathic killers without an origin story—or, at least, not one based entirely on facts.” That racist framework is finally being rewritten.

The Chicano Movement of the 1970s gave rise to a new narrative, reimagining the pair as Hispano protagonists fighting on behalf of an oppressed people. Songs and at least one screenplay have been written about the pair. The Vendetta of Felipe Espinosa, a novel published in 2014, sought to untangle the brothers’ faith and familial past as a way to understand their murderous motivations. Wild West Exodus, a British tabletop game, includes a version of the brothers, with Felipe described as a “rogue, desperado, thief, mariachi, and to many, a bold freedom fighter.”

Historians have finally begun to examine that record, investigating the plight of civilizations wiped out or marginalized by settlers. “These citizens were made to feel like they were foreigners, and the historical record traditionally treated them that way,” says Virgina Sanchez, a genealogist and historian who has studied life within southern Colorado settlements and is the author of Pleas and Petitions: Hispano Culture and Legislative Conflict in Territorial Colorado. “The Espinosas are an important part of that history if you’re using them to understand the deeper, day-to-day hardships and prejudices that faced non-Anglos trying to survive within their own country.”

Nick Saenz, an associate professor of history at Adams State University who has studied Hispano settlement in southern Colorado, argues that while the Espinosa brothers are “like folk heroes” within the San Luis Valley—if not outright celebrated, then happily accepted—it’s a disservice to history if the narrative focuses only on the murders. “This is really the story of two distinct groups of people, with different languages and cultures and ideas of what this land should be, and they find themselves smashed together in the same place at the same time,” Saenz says. “More than anything, this is a story of survival. Ultimately, one side got to tell that story.”

Read the story

from Longreads https://ift.tt/3589xeI

The American West was filled with people with pistols and places to hide, and many vigilantes’ violence and escapes made them legendary. California’s Joaquin Murrieta is one of the most famous, but Colorado Territory had its own, though nowadays, few remember them. For 5280 magazine, Robert Sanchez narrates the bloody tale of Felipe and Vivián Espinosa, two Hispano settlers whose presence in Colorado’s San Luis Valley predates American ownership of the region, and he reexamines their motives. Seven thousand Spanish descendents moved into the San Luis Valley before territorial annexation, but as soon as Mexican ownership was transfered to the United States, the white settlers and legislators started creating problems, and some Hispano settlers retaliated. History either erased the Espinosas and their Hispanic communities, or they framed the brothers as what Sanchez describes as “Spanish-speaking, sociopathic killers without an origin story—or, at least, not one based entirely on facts.” That racist framework is finally being rewritten.

The Chicano Movement of the 1970s gave rise to a new narrative, reimagining the pair as Hispano protagonists fighting on behalf of an oppressed people. Songs and at least one screenplay have been written about the pair. The Vendetta of Felipe Espinosa, a novel published in 2014, sought to untangle the brothers’ faith and familial past as a way to understand their murderous motivations. Wild West Exodus, a British tabletop game, includes a version of the brothers, with Felipe described as a “rogue, desperado, thief, mariachi, and to many, a bold freedom fighter.”

Historians have finally begun to examine that record, investigating the plight of civilizations wiped out or marginalized by settlers. “These citizens were made to feel like they were foreigners, and the historical record traditionally treated them that way,” says Virgina Sanchez, a genealogist and historian who has studied life within southern Colorado settlements and is the author of Pleas and Petitions: Hispano Culture and Legislative Conflict in Territorial Colorado. “The Espinosas are an important part of that history if you’re using them to understand the deeper, day-to-day hardships and prejudices that faced non-Anglos trying to survive within their own country.”

Nick Saenz, an associate professor of history at Adams State University who has studied Hispano settlement in southern Colorado, argues that while the Espinosa brothers are “like folk heroes” within the San Luis Valley—if not outright celebrated, then happily accepted—it’s a disservice to history if the narrative focuses only on the murders. “This is really the story of two distinct groups of people, with different languages and cultures and ideas of what this land should be, and they find themselves smashed together in the same place at the same time,” Saenz says. “More than anything, this is a story of survival. Ultimately, one side got to tell that story.”

Read the story


Naming the Psychological Effects of Climate Change: Solastalgia

In this essay at The Believer, Ash Sanders considers the heavy psychological cost of climate change and society-at-large’s strangely dismissive view of those who routinely make personal sacrifices in order to help the planet survive.

On a bright fall day in 1991, Chris Foster left his differential equations class at the University of California, Davis, bypassed students lounging on the quad, and headed toward the Domes, an on-campus co-op housing development. Although it was November, he was wearing his usual uniform: pink shorts, no shirt, no shoes. At the Domes, he harvested mesquite in a grove of trees and picked wild radishes and mallow in a nearby field. He then walked three miles west to Village Homes, another co-op, which he knew would be a scavenger’s cornucopia: full of late-season figs, apples, nuts, and wild grapes. Chris harvested only fallen fruit—he felt this was less invasive than picking from trees, and his aim was to tread lightly on the earth, to be almost invisible, in order to cause as little harm as possible.

Chris was a philosophy and math major, and he liked to think of himself as the Diogenes of Davis, a reference to the fourth-century BCE Cynic philosopher who renounced wealth and slept outdoors in a large ceramic jar. Chris had made a habit of trying to last the night outside without a sleeping bag. “I couldn’t accept the privileges of humanity when I didn’t want any part of humanity,” he told me. Eating fallen fruit and sleeping outside, however, didn’t provide him relief from his feelings of guilt and foreboding. He began to feel a dread that was inescapable and all-consuming. A devastating depression that he had suffered a few years before that fall semester returned. Normally a math phenom, Chris started failing his tests. In his apartment, he would sit in the dark—he didn’t want to waste electricity—listen to records, and cry. “I felt like I was slowly dying,” he said.

But when it comes to climate grief, the experience can be hard to define, and thus harder to understand and demonstrate. If climate sickness exists in the overlap of the physical and the emotional, we need words for those feelings, a dictionary of sorts that allows us to see patterns in the experiences of individual people. Fortunately, that’s exactly what a group of motley philosophers, artists, and doctors are currently working to devise.

Maybe the word we need is not one for a sickness. Maybe we need a word for a difficult truth: that when the world is ending, our health depends on closing ourselves off to awareness of this fact. Where you choose to draw your boundaries is arbitrary, not rational. If you draw them wide—if you include trees and refugees and animals and whole nations—you will be sick from overwhelm and will be seen as crazy. But if you draw them narrowly, you’ll suppress more and admire yourself less—which is its own sort of sickness.

Read the story

from Longreads https://ift.tt/2LHL48l

In this essay at The Believer, Ash Sanders considers the heavy psychological cost of climate change and society-at-large’s strangely dismissive view of those who routinely make personal sacrifices in order to help the planet survive.

On a bright fall day in 1991, Chris Foster left his differential equations class at the University of California, Davis, bypassed students lounging on the quad, and headed toward the Domes, an on-campus co-op housing development. Although it was November, he was wearing his usual uniform: pink shorts, no shirt, no shoes. At the Domes, he harvested mesquite in a grove of trees and picked wild radishes and mallow in a nearby field. He then walked three miles west to Village Homes, another co-op, which he knew would be a scavenger’s cornucopia: full of late-season figs, apples, nuts, and wild grapes. Chris harvested only fallen fruit—he felt this was less invasive than picking from trees, and his aim was to tread lightly on the earth, to be almost invisible, in order to cause as little harm as possible.

Chris was a philosophy and math major, and he liked to think of himself as the Diogenes of Davis, a reference to the fourth-century BCE Cynic philosopher who renounced wealth and slept outdoors in a large ceramic jar. Chris had made a habit of trying to last the night outside without a sleeping bag. “I couldn’t accept the privileges of humanity when I didn’t want any part of humanity,” he told me. Eating fallen fruit and sleeping outside, however, didn’t provide him relief from his feelings of guilt and foreboding. He began to feel a dread that was inescapable and all-consuming. A devastating depression that he had suffered a few years before that fall semester returned. Normally a math phenom, Chris started failing his tests. In his apartment, he would sit in the dark—he didn’t want to waste electricity—listen to records, and cry. “I felt like I was slowly dying,” he said.

But when it comes to climate grief, the experience can be hard to define, and thus harder to understand and demonstrate. If climate sickness exists in the overlap of the physical and the emotional, we need words for those feelings, a dictionary of sorts that allows us to see patterns in the experiences of individual people. Fortunately, that’s exactly what a group of motley philosophers, artists, and doctors are currently working to devise.

Maybe the word we need is not one for a sickness. Maybe we need a word for a difficult truth: that when the world is ending, our health depends on closing ourselves off to awareness of this fact. Where you choose to draw your boundaries is arbitrary, not rational. If you draw them wide—if you include trees and refugees and animals and whole nations—you will be sick from overwhelm and will be seen as crazy. But if you draw them narrowly, you’ll suppress more and admire yourself less—which is its own sort of sickness.

Read the story


Longreads Best of 2019: Essays

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in essays.

Jennifer Baker

Publishing professional, contributing editor to Electric Literature, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, editor of Everyday People: The Color of Life—A Short Story Anthology.

Lesson Plan: This Is Not a Drill (Jasminne Mendez, Queen Mobs)

On Facebook author Jasminne Mendez said “Lesson Plan” came out of “an attempt at capturing what I’ve felt and what I can only imagine feeling.” Art at its best, at its height, at its most vivid brings us into an experience so deeply one cannot help but feel the effects of the work in our marrow. “Lesson Plan” captures something unique and raw through structure, precision, poetics, and accuracy of what an initially conventional turned unconventional school day looks like when it comes to a new “normal”: active shooters/drills. How can we keep kids safe? Is that even possible anymore? What pressures are educators under? What and who gets lost when these events occur? When will this kind of terror end? The refrain of “this is not a drill” pulsates throughout. Remember… remember… remember. The bare honesty of “Lesson Plan” exemplifies the kind of writing that inspires you to experiment with how to encapsulate and explore our reality, as distressing as it may be.


Lilly Dancyger

A contributing editor at Catapult, founder and host of the Memoir Monday newsletter and reading series, and editor of Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger.

The Greeter (T Kira Madden, The Sun)

Excerpted from T Kira Madden’s debut memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, which also came out in 2019, this essay starts with the simple, perfumed image of teenaged Madden’s job selling shoes at the Boca Raton Mall. Then it zooms out to show everything that was happening beneath that coconut-oil-shined surface: We see the senior who gave Madden rides in exchange for access to her body; we see the friends she sweet-talks her way into a piercing shop with, to get the one piercing her mother has forbidden; and we see her mother, relapsing, sick with withdrawal and then high again, overdosing, and finally in inpatient treatment. Madden bears witness to her mother’s addiction, capturing the fierce loyalty and the fragile need of loving someone who struggles in this way. She notes that she feels guilty being in the room while her mother lists her drugs of choice while being admitted for treatment, because, “This part of her life is both mine and not mine,” and states the simple, inescapable, double-bind truth that, “No one can hurt you the way a mother can. No one can love you the way a mother can.”
But even more than the descriptions of her mother’s deterioration and struggle to pull herself out of it, what really stuck with me in this piece is the buzzing numbness of Madden herself — staying away from home as long as possible while getting a ride from a coworker, chasing the high of the searing pain of a tongue piercing, doing whatever drugs she could get her hands on even while her mother’s drug use is breaking her heart. The cognitive dissonance and aching denial of an outwardly-defiant-but-internally-terrified teenager. That’s the part that etched itself in my mind; maybe because it was already there, in my memory, so reading this piece felt as much like being seen as it did like seeing something clearly.

Matthew Salesses
Author of the novels The Hundred-Year Flood and the forthcoming Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear  (Little A, August 2020).

The Uncanny Child (Elisa Gabbert, The Paris Review)

What should an essay do? I am reading, right now, about mirror neurons and desire. Mirror neurons are the neurons that fire both when we do something and when we watch someone else do that thing; they are said to be responsible for empathy, and learning. Empathy and learning are at the heart of what compels me to read an essay. In the essays I like best, I rarely know at first why I am reading. Forgive me, but I never read an essay for a story. In fiction, many different desires are in conflict, provoking the readerly desire to both get to the end of the story and never get to the end of the story. In an essay, the only desire to shape the audience’s desire is the essayist’s. In other words, fairly or not, I want a novel to know what I want; I want an essay to show me what I want. Desire is mimetic — how and what we desire is learned from the desires of others — so a good essay must take responsibility for the desires of its readers. An essay should show us how to want better, by showing us the essayist thinking through her own wants. The essayist who does this most reliably for me is Elisa Gabbert. Instead of offering one essay to read from 2019, I would like to offer a step in one author’s direction.


Vanessa Mártir

Writer, educator, and the founder of the Writing Our Lives Workshop. 

‘Queen & Slim’ Could Be One of the Great Love Stories of All Time — if You Let It (Carvell Wallace, The New York Times Magazine)

Choosing a best of 2019 essay was nearly impossible because so many gorgeous essays were published this year, but this feature by Carvell Wallace is one is that will stay with me for a long time. I know an essay is that good when I want to share it with my 15-year-old daughter.

I love essays that take me on a journey. I love to see inside people’s lives, into their humanity, their hearts, their emotions, what moves them and shatters them, what gives them hope, what they survive. I rarely expect that from a movie review.

Carvell Wallace’s language is beautiful and wrenching but what got me was his ability to put into words what I have struggled to write: “Every experience is either life-affirming or life-denying. There is just one trick. It sometimes happens that to move toward love — true, active, life-affirming love — means to move toward death.”

This essay brought me closer to life, which is what I seek in an essay. The pain and joy of the testimony.

Wallace writes unflinchingly about how loss and our proximity to death can shape us and open us up if we allow it. He doesn’t negate or make light of what it’s like to live as a person of color in this country, the dangers we face constantly, as we go about our lives. He affirmed what experiencing loss and injustice has taught me: that fear cannot stop us from experiencing joy, from loving and letting ourselves be seen….

Carvell Wallace reminded me in this essay of what art and writing can do, and ultimately that’s why I chose it as the best essay of 2019.


Rani Neutill

A writer and professor of writing and literature at work on “do you love me?,” a memoir about fractured identity and her relationship with her mentally ill Bengali immigrant mother.

Breaking My Own Silence (Min Jin Lee, The New York Times)

Every year, a slew of fantastic essays are published. 2019 felt even more exceptional in this regard. One particular essay resonated with me, both as a child of an immigrant mother who struggled with language, accent, and assimilation into American society, and as a scholar of Asian American literature. Novelist, Min Jin Lee’s, “Breaking My Own Silence,” beautifully chronicles her journey through life and education and the difficulty of speaking and speaking up. She moved from Seoul to Queens, NY when she was 7 years old and narrates her experience as a Korean immigrant to recount how the English language is one of the determining, often insidious, forces of assimilation. She also describes how she encountered notions of Asian women as silent, weak and submissive — the lotus blossom stereotype. Lee astutely and emotionally notes the differences between talking and writing. The links between the two and the power of both. The painful nature of each expressive gesture. Her experiences as a Korean immigrant, now having lived in the West for more than four decades, build to make sense of herself as a writer.

So many scenes moved me. I recalled moments in my own childhood where my mother’s practices as a Bengali immigrant separated me from my classmates — how people made fun of my name and the way my mother made up my hair. She always braided it, wove ribbons into each plait, and wrapped them up into two ovals that bounced around my head. This is something mothers did to their daughters in Kolkata as they sent them off to school. It was one of the ways in which my mother attempted to hold onto her identity as a Bengali woman. I often felt the shame of not being able to be what was considered beautiful and “American,” because of this. Lee’s essay helped me make sense of my own experiences and the ways in which I learned to become a writer and someone who struggles.


Morgan Jerkins

Author of the New York Times bestseller, This Will Be My Undoing, and the Senior Editor at ZORA.

The Crane Wife (C.J. Hauser, The Paris Review)

I don’t know even know where to begin with this essay. It was only published five months ago and I bring it up every chance I get when talking about how to craft a personal narrative in a structurally unique way. Who would’ve thought that the end of an engagement combined with the discovery of cranes and their behavior would have that much in common? Hauser beautifully blends this moment of coming into her own as a newly single woman who’s studying cranes as she reflects on all the times in her previous relationship where she had red flags to leave. Emotionally resonant, vulnerable, and smart, I hope Hauser continues to publish as much as she wants.


Ayşegül Savaş

The author of Walking on the Ceiling.

Manual for Mourning a Great Poet (Caroline Stockford, Yrakha)

Many of the essays I read this year were written with outrage, a sentiment particularly well-suited to social media and the types of essays that get circulated within it. Outrage is easily spread; its sting is unambiguous and quickly felt. It has come to represent how much we care; it may seem the only way to write about the things that matter to us. In the language of outrage, the unremarkable aches of our lives can be cast aside, the small cares washed away.

Caroline Stockford’s essay “Manual for Mourning a Great Poet” is an ode to old-world passions — to beers and cigarettes in backstreets, posters of rock stars, poems recited by heart. It is about the betrayal, friendship, and abuse of a great poet’s life. The poet in the essay, Küçük İskender, will be unknown to non-Turkish readers, though he was a cult figure in Turkish poetry. That is part of the essay’s heartbreak. Not because Küçük İskender didn’t achieve international fame, but because he lived fiercely and passionately within literature. The essay reminded me of the force of true poetry; that outrageously frail manual for living a life.


Sari Botton
Essays editor, Longreads

The Optics of Opportunity (Hafizah Geter, Gay Magazine)

I will confess that when Hafizah Geter tweeted about her experience with Barnes & Nobel’s failed, deeply problematic Springing Center Fellowship for emerging writers, I reached out to invite her to write an essay about it for Longreads. I knew I wouldn’t be the only editor pursuing this important piece, and I was happy to see it land at Gay Magazine.

In the essay, Geter sets the record straight on outrageous displays of racism, white privilege, and gaslighting on the part of white instructor, Jackson Taylor, after her classmate wrote about it less critically in The New Yorker, framing the story as just “a quirky tale of wealth and nepotism.”

She also brings to light the morally bankrupt opportunism of Barnes & Noble founder Steve Riggio and his daughter, Stephanie (an incognito fellow in the program herself), who seemed to have created the fellowship — for which they “had invited a group of emerging writers to use our work to engage and interrogate structures of power” but were averse to questioning white power — to project a false air of wokeness.

It was an unfair bargain the participants didn’t know they were making, and Geter gets at this urgently and compellingly. She writes: “…as a black, queer woman I am aware of how much harder people of color have to labor in order to be allowed to reap our fruits. I am no stranger to how often opportunity has a racial cost. And wasn’t this an opportunity? — every writer in the room was thinking — though for the writers of color, like it too often is, it was opportunity at a cost…The exchange the people of color at the Springing Center made for the ‘opportunity’ was in granting favorable optics — after all, among the people of color, we carried most of the notable bylines that gave the room prestige — The New Yorker, Tin House, books forthcoming from Knopf and Graywolf. But our admission into white spaces is never free, even when we are the ones carrying the room.”

Hideous Men (E. Jean Carroll, The Cut)

In this stunning excerpt from her memoir, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal, E. Jean Carroll recalls being sexually assaulted by numerous men throughout her life, and outright raped in the mid-’90s in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room by none other than Donald Trump.

Carroll manages to control the narrative in a piece in which she is abused, again and again, even deploying humor in places as she points to various absurdities of coming up as a woman in media in the ’60s. “I am a member of the Silent Generation,” she writes. “We do not flap our gums. We laugh it off and get on with life.”

* * *

Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.

from Longreads https://ift.tt/2LFnide

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in essays.

Jennifer Baker

Publishing professional, contributing editor to Electric Literature, creator/host of the Minorities in Publishing podcast, editor of Everyday People: The Color of Life—A Short Story Anthology.

Lesson Plan: This Is Not a Drill (Jasminne Mendez, Queen Mobs)

On Facebook author Jasminne Mendez said “Lesson Plan” came out of “an attempt at capturing what I’ve felt and what I can only imagine feeling.” Art at its best, at its height, at its most vivid brings us into an experience so deeply one cannot help but feel the effects of the work in our marrow. “Lesson Plan” captures something unique and raw through structure, precision, poetics, and accuracy of what an initially conventional turned unconventional school day looks like when it comes to a new “normal”: active shooters/drills. How can we keep kids safe? Is that even possible anymore? What pressures are educators under? What and who gets lost when these events occur? When will this kind of terror end? The refrain of “this is not a drill” pulsates throughout. Remember… remember… remember. The bare honesty of “Lesson Plan” exemplifies the kind of writing that inspires you to experiment with how to encapsulate and explore our reality, as distressing as it may be.


Lilly Dancyger

A contributing editor at Catapult, founder and host of the Memoir Monday newsletter and reading series, and editor of Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger.

The Greeter (T Kira Madden, The Sun)

Excerpted from T Kira Madden’s debut memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, which also came out in 2019, this essay starts with the simple, perfumed image of teenaged Madden’s job selling shoes at the Boca Raton Mall. Then it zooms out to show everything that was happening beneath that coconut-oil-shined surface: We see the senior who gave Madden rides in exchange for access to her body; we see the friends she sweet-talks her way into a piercing shop with, to get the one piercing her mother has forbidden; and we see her mother, relapsing, sick with withdrawal and then high again, overdosing, and finally in inpatient treatment. Madden bears witness to her mother’s addiction, capturing the fierce loyalty and the fragile need of loving someone who struggles in this way. She notes that she feels guilty being in the room while her mother lists her drugs of choice while being admitted for treatment, because, “This part of her life is both mine and not mine,” and states the simple, inescapable, double-bind truth that, “No one can hurt you the way a mother can. No one can love you the way a mother can.”
But even more than the descriptions of her mother’s deterioration and struggle to pull herself out of it, what really stuck with me in this piece is the buzzing numbness of Madden herself — staying away from home as long as possible while getting a ride from a coworker, chasing the high of the searing pain of a tongue piercing, doing whatever drugs she could get her hands on even while her mother’s drug use is breaking her heart. The cognitive dissonance and aching denial of an outwardly-defiant-but-internally-terrified teenager. That’s the part that etched itself in my mind; maybe because it was already there, in my memory, so reading this piece felt as much like being seen as it did like seeing something clearly.

Matthew Salesses
Author of the novels The Hundred-Year Flood and the forthcoming Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear  (Little A, August 2020).

The Uncanny Child (Elisa Gabbert, The Paris Review)

What should an essay do? I am reading, right now, about mirror neurons and desire. Mirror neurons are the neurons that fire both when we do something and when we watch someone else do that thing; they are said to be responsible for empathy, and learning. Empathy and learning are at the heart of what compels me to read an essay. In the essays I like best, I rarely know at first why I am reading. Forgive me, but I never read an essay for a story. In fiction, many different desires are in conflict, provoking the readerly desire to both get to the end of the story and never get to the end of the story. In an essay, the only desire to shape the audience’s desire is the essayist’s. In other words, fairly or not, I want a novel to know what I want; I want an essay to show me what I want. Desire is mimetic — how and what we desire is learned from the desires of others — so a good essay must take responsibility for the desires of its readers. An essay should show us how to want better, by showing us the essayist thinking through her own wants. The essayist who does this most reliably for me is Elisa Gabbert. Instead of offering one essay to read from 2019, I would like to offer a step in one author’s direction.


Vanessa Mártir

Writer, educator, and the founder of the Writing Our Lives Workshop. 

‘Queen & Slim’ Could Be One of the Great Love Stories of All Time — if You Let It (Carvell Wallace, The New York Times Magazine)

Choosing a best of 2019 essay was nearly impossible because so many gorgeous essays were published this year, but this feature by Carvell Wallace is one is that will stay with me for a long time. I know an essay is that good when I want to share it with my 15-year-old daughter.

I love essays that take me on a journey. I love to see inside people’s lives, into their humanity, their hearts, their emotions, what moves them and shatters them, what gives them hope, what they survive. I rarely expect that from a movie review.

Carvell Wallace’s language is beautiful and wrenching but what got me was his ability to put into words what I have struggled to write: “Every experience is either life-affirming or life-denying. There is just one trick. It sometimes happens that to move toward love — true, active, life-affirming love — means to move toward death.”

This essay brought me closer to life, which is what I seek in an essay. The pain and joy of the testimony.

Wallace writes unflinchingly about how loss and our proximity to death can shape us and open us up if we allow it. He doesn’t negate or make light of what it’s like to live as a person of color in this country, the dangers we face constantly, as we go about our lives. He affirmed what experiencing loss and injustice has taught me: that fear cannot stop us from experiencing joy, from loving and letting ourselves be seen….

Carvell Wallace reminded me in this essay of what art and writing can do, and ultimately that’s why I chose it as the best essay of 2019.


Rani Neutill

A writer and professor of writing and literature at work on “do you love me?,” a memoir about fractured identity and her relationship with her mentally ill Bengali immigrant mother.

Breaking My Own Silence (Min Jin Lee, The New York Times)

Every year, a slew of fantastic essays are published. 2019 felt even more exceptional in this regard. One particular essay resonated with me, both as a child of an immigrant mother who struggled with language, accent, and assimilation into American society, and as a scholar of Asian American literature. Novelist, Min Jin Lee’s, “Breaking My Own Silence,” beautifully chronicles her journey through life and education and the difficulty of speaking and speaking up. She moved from Seoul to Queens, NY when she was 7 years old and narrates her experience as a Korean immigrant to recount how the English language is one of the determining, often insidious, forces of assimilation. She also describes how she encountered notions of Asian women as silent, weak and submissive — the lotus blossom stereotype. Lee astutely and emotionally notes the differences between talking and writing. The links between the two and the power of both. The painful nature of each expressive gesture. Her experiences as a Korean immigrant, now having lived in the West for more than four decades, build to make sense of herself as a writer.

So many scenes moved me. I recalled moments in my own childhood where my mother’s practices as a Bengali immigrant separated me from my classmates — how people made fun of my name and the way my mother made up my hair. She always braided it, wove ribbons into each plait, and wrapped them up into two ovals that bounced around my head. This is something mothers did to their daughters in Kolkata as they sent them off to school. It was one of the ways in which my mother attempted to hold onto her identity as a Bengali woman. I often felt the shame of not being able to be what was considered beautiful and “American,” because of this. Lee’s essay helped me make sense of my own experiences and the ways in which I learned to become a writer and someone who struggles.


Morgan Jerkins

Author of the New York Times bestseller, This Will Be My Undoing, and the Senior Editor at ZORA.

The Crane Wife (C.J. Hauser, The Paris Review)

I don’t know even know where to begin with this essay. It was only published five months ago and I bring it up every chance I get when talking about how to craft a personal narrative in a structurally unique way. Who would’ve thought that the end of an engagement combined with the discovery of cranes and their behavior would have that much in common? Hauser beautifully blends this moment of coming into her own as a newly single woman who’s studying cranes as she reflects on all the times in her previous relationship where she had red flags to leave. Emotionally resonant, vulnerable, and smart, I hope Hauser continues to publish as much as she wants.


Ayşegül Savaş

The author of Walking on the Ceiling.

Manual for Mourning a Great Poet (Caroline Stockford, Yrakha)

Many of the essays I read this year were written with outrage, a sentiment particularly well-suited to social media and the types of essays that get circulated within it. Outrage is easily spread; its sting is unambiguous and quickly felt. It has come to represent how much we care; it may seem the only way to write about the things that matter to us. In the language of outrage, the unremarkable aches of our lives can be cast aside, the small cares washed away.

Caroline Stockford’s essay “Manual for Mourning a Great Poet” is an ode to old-world passions — to beers and cigarettes in backstreets, posters of rock stars, poems recited by heart. It is about the betrayal, friendship, and abuse of a great poet’s life. The poet in the essay, Küçük İskender, will be unknown to non-Turkish readers, though he was a cult figure in Turkish poetry. That is part of the essay’s heartbreak. Not because Küçük İskender didn’t achieve international fame, but because he lived fiercely and passionately within literature. The essay reminded me of the force of true poetry; that outrageously frail manual for living a life.


Sari Botton
Essays editor, Longreads

The Optics of Opportunity (Hafizah Geter, Gay Magazine)

I will confess that when Hafizah Geter tweeted about her experience with Barnes & Nobel’s failed, deeply problematic Springing Center Fellowship for emerging writers, I reached out to invite her to write an essay about it for Longreads. I knew I wouldn’t be the only editor pursuing this important piece, and I was happy to see it land at Gay Magazine.

In the essay, Geter sets the record straight on outrageous displays of racism, white privilege, and gaslighting on the part of white instructor, Jackson Taylor, after her classmate wrote about it less critically in The New Yorker, framing the story as just “a quirky tale of wealth and nepotism.”

She also brings to light the morally bankrupt opportunism of Barnes & Noble founder Steve Riggio and his daughter, Stephanie (an incognito fellow in the program herself), who seemed to have created the fellowship — for which they “had invited a group of emerging writers to use our work to engage and interrogate structures of power” but were averse to questioning white power — to project a false air of wokeness.

It was an unfair bargain the participants didn’t know they were making, and Geter gets at this urgently and compellingly. She writes: “…as a black, queer woman I am aware of how much harder people of color have to labor in order to be allowed to reap our fruits. I am no stranger to how often opportunity has a racial cost. And wasn’t this an opportunity? — every writer in the room was thinking — though for the writers of color, like it too often is, it was opportunity at a cost…The exchange the people of color at the Springing Center made for the ‘opportunity’ was in granting favorable optics — after all, among the people of color, we carried most of the notable bylines that gave the room prestige — The New Yorker, Tin House, books forthcoming from Knopf and Graywolf. But our admission into white spaces is never free, even when we are the ones carrying the room.”

Hideous Men (E. Jean Carroll, The Cut)

In this stunning excerpt from her memoir, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal, E. Jean Carroll recalls being sexually assaulted by numerous men throughout her life, and outright raped in the mid-’90s in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room by none other than Donald Trump.

Carroll manages to control the narrative in a piece in which she is abused, again and again, even deploying humor in places as she points to various absurdities of coming up as a woman in media in the ’60s. “I am a member of the Silent Generation,” she writes. “We do not flap our gums. We laugh it off and get on with life.”

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.