Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cheryl Strayed Selects Two Essays from River Teeth for Best American Essays 2013

Joe Mackall, professor of English, and Dan Lehman, Trustees' Distinguished Professor of English, have learned that two essays first published in River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative will be featured in Best American Essays 2013, the long-running series published by Houghton Mifflin Books and edited by Robert Atwan. 

The award-winning essays were written by authors with deep roots in the Ashland University Master's of Fine Arts Program: Steve Harvey, an honored graduate faculty member in the Ashland MFA, and Jon Kerstetter, a 2011 Ashland MFA graduate who was a combat physician and flight surgeon for the U.S. Army and who completed three combat tours in Iraq.

Bestselling author Cheryl Strayed (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail), the guest editor of Best American Essays 2013, chose Harvey's and Kerstetter's work from among the many hundreds of entries that Atwan and she reviewed this year. That River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative contributed two of only twenty-five pieces published in Best American Essays 2013 cements the journal's reputation at the forefront of literary magazines published in the United States.

Now in its fifteenth year, River Teeth is co-edited by English professors Mackall and Lehman. Sarah M. Wells, MFA administrative director, is managing editor of River Teeth. Wells coordinates the journal's design and production and has raised the journal's profile significantly with increased print subscriptions and a strong online presence that includes Kindle editions and widespread library distribution through Project Muse at Johns Hopkins University. The journal's acceptance rate is less than 2 percent of the nearly 2,500 nonfiction submissions it reviews each year.

Steven Harvey's essay, "The Book of Knowledge," is the opening chapter of his memoir in progress, The Book of Knowledge and Wonder, which concerns the suicide of his mother in 1961, when Harvey was 11 years old. The Ashland MFA faculty member subsequently discovered 406 letters his mother had left behind and embarked on a writing project that he says "has the feel of a detective story. Before I read the letters, my mother had become little more than her death to me, but while writing her story I discovered a woman who, despite her vulnerability to depression, had a large capacity for wonder and a love of familiar things, legacies that she passed on to me."

Jon Kerstetter's "Triage" concerns his experience as a combat physician in Iraq on the day that Major General Jon Gallinetti, U.S. Marine Corps, accompanied him on late-night clinical rounds. "The general laid his hand on the expectant soldier’s leg—the leg whose strength I imagined was drifting like a shape-shifting cloud moving against a dark umber sky—strength retreating into a time before it carried a soldier," Kerstetter writes. "And I watched the drifting of a man back into the womb of his mother, toward a time when a leg was not a leg, a body not a body, toward a time when a soldier was only the laughing between two young lovers—a man and a woman who could never imagine that a leg-body-man-soldier would one day lie expectant and that that soldier would be their son."

Harvey is a core faculty member who has taught creative nonfiction in the Ashland University MFA program since its inception. He is professor of English at Young Harris College in Georgia. Kerstetter was a member of the Ashland MFA's third graduating class and raised funds for the Wounded Warrior Project through a special pre-order of the River Teeth issue that published his essays about Iraq. 

By Dan Lehman