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Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Best American Picks Harvard Review Selections

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Two essays and a short story that first appeared in issues 38 and 39 of Harvard Review were recently chosen for inclusion in the highly-selective Best American series.


May 4, 2011 – For the ninth time in the last decade, works first published in Harvard Review have been chosen for inclusion in the highly-selective Best American series.

The selections include two essays that appeared in issue 39 and a short story taken from issue 38. Meenakshi Gigi Venugopal’s essay “Grieving” is the true story of her husband’s reaction to being denied tenure at the university where he teaches.

“It was obviously metaphorical for her,” Harvard Review editor Christina Thompson said of the essay’s title. “Grieving is the technical term for appealing a tenure decision, but also her husband was grief-stricken by the decision because his whole identity was tied up with his teaching. The decision was eventually reversed, but the essay describes in detail what a painful process it was for him.”

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The second essay selected – “Unprepared” by Jerald Walker – opens with a scene of an African-American teen who is propositioned by an older man, setting off a series of musings about race and serial killers. A third essay, “All the Words I Knew,” by Yale undergraduate Elisa Gonzalez, which appeared in issue 38, was selected for the “Notable” category of Best American Essays.

The story selected for Best American Short Stories, “The Call of Blood” by Jess Row, is Row’s second story published in Harvard Review, and his second to be included in the Best American series. An earlier story, “Heaven Lake,” from issue 22, was selected for the 2003 edition of the series.

The Best American series has been published since 1915 as a showcase for the year’s finest poetry, short stories, and essays. The three pieces selected from Harvard Review are the most the journal has ever had selected in a single year, and are a tribute to Thompson’s ability to identify material from the thousands of submissions the journal receives annually.

“I think one of the main reasons for our success is that I don’t have just one idea about what is good,” Thompson said. “I have help from my guest editors, of course, and I think we are all open to a wide range of different subjects and voices and styles.

“There are certain things you can get everybody to agree on about what is meritorious in literature, things like confident writing and the ability to keep the reader engaged,” she continued. “So, there’s the floor and I think most editors are in general agreement about where that is. Above that it’s a matter of taste. I think my taste is fairly broad and that has made it possible for us to publish things across a broad spectrum.”

While the selections are an important form of recognition for the writers, they are equally important for the journal, Thompson said.

“Since we only publish twice a year, we are not eligible for any national awards, so Best American is one of the few forms of national recognition open to us. It is an affirmation of what we do,” she said. “And having stories and essays selected also helps us attract more mid-career and even well-known writers.”

Harvard Review is published twice yearly, in summer and winter. The journal can also be purchased from the Harvard Coop, the Harvard Book Store, or directly from the Harvard Review office in Lamont Library. Subscription information is available online. The Harvard Review staff includes Christina Thompson, editor; Laura Healy, managing editor; Major Jackson, poetry editor; Nam Le, fiction editor; and Judith Larsen, visual arts editor.