Editor's Notes, Volume 16, Number 1

By Joe Mackall

August 28, 2014

Editor's Notes, Volume 16, Number 1

We at River Teeth talk a lot about what the journal has meant to us during our first fifteen years. What we’ve discovered doesn’t surprise us now, but it would have fifteen years ago. It’s the people: the people we’ve met, the people we’ve published, the people who came of age as creative nonfiction writers reading River Teeth. It’s all pretty damn humbling, to be sure.

I’m writing this just after the third annual River Teeth Nonfiction Conference. We packed three days with great readings and craft talks and dinner discussions about why we write and why it matters. But the conference was so much more than that. I was able to see many old friends and make new ones, including friends I first knew only as a reader knows a writer he admires. We’ve all heard the stories about those grim moments when a reader realizes that many writers are far better people on the page than in person. Fortunately, that’s not always the case.

One example is Steve Harvey. I read Steve’s essay collections long before I met him. As a matter of fact, we met because I essentially stalked him at an AWP conference just to say I believed him to be one of the top personal essayists in the country. Not long after that, I asked Steve to come to Ashland University to read. My students loved him. That’s when I knew Steve was not only a great writer but also one of the best folks I’ve ever known, in or out of the writing community. When we began our low-residency MFA program in 2007, Steve became the first creative nonfiction writer we hired to teach. Last year Steve’s amazing essay “The Book of Knowledge,” which River Teeth had the good sense to publish, garnered a republication in The Best American Essays. And now we’re taking another step together. Steve has joined River Teeth as a senior editor, which will only make us better.

And that’s only one instance of understanding that River Teeth’s growing beyond me or Dan who founded it, or Sarah who saved it. I’ve come to believe there’s a community of readers and writers out there who have somehow been brought and held together through the pages of our journal. If this sounds obvious to everybody but me, then . . . I’m not really sure what to do with that. It is what it is. We witnessed this phenomenon most recently at AWP in Seattle, where we had a little cocktail party for River Teeth contributors and friends. Hundreds of people showed up, just to say hi, just because we were all part of something. A few folks even thanked us.
I have no doubt that the best thing to come out of having started this journal has been the other writers we’ve met along the way. Although I live on a small lake in rural Ohio, I’ve rarely felt truly tethered to this lake community. But I do feel the comfort of community when I’m among the writers that make up what I sometimes refer to as the AWP crowd.

Recently we’ve had the good fortune of getting to know another person we first encountered through her work. I had read Cheryl Strayed for years, first in The Best American Essays, and then her novel Torch, her bestselling memoir Wild, and her inspiring collection Tiny Beautiful Things. Before we met her in person, Cheryl had selected two River Teeth essays for inclusion in The Best American Essays 2013. She then read at Ashland University’s low-residency MFA program, where she proved to be as authentic and generous in person as she appears on the page. This fall, she will serve as the final judge for the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize, published by the University of New Mexico Press.

After admiring his work for years as well, I finally met Chris Offutt at a conference probably ten years ago now. Although we’ve published Chris twice before, we were particularly honored when he chose River Teeth for an essay he’d been struggling to write for more than a decade. Chris’s long struggle produced “Someone Else,” a startling and powerful essay. We learned recently and were delighted to tell Chris that this year’s guest editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, had chosen “Someone Else” for inclusion in The Best American Essays 2014.
Nobody does it alone. Thanks for reading.

Keywords: 16-1, editors notes
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