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Review: The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction

September 7, 2020

by April Bradley

Since its establishment in 1997, Brevity: a Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, has been the first and longest-standing literary journal to offer a home dedicated exclusively to the publication of short creative works of nonfiction. The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction, edited by Zoë Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore and published by the Rose Metal Press, features eighty-four of its most influential and well-loved essays selected from among more than eight hundred published works across sixty issues, celebrating twenty years of flash brilliance in creative nonfiction. This print collection also serves as a companion to complement the existing Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction: Advice and Essential Exercises from Respected Writers, Editors, and Teachers. It is nothing less than a tremendous accomplishment.

The collection opens with introductions by Dinty W. Moore, founder and editor-in-chief of Brevity, and Zoë Bossiere, Brevity’s managing editor. In “On Voice, Concision, and Twenty Years of Flash Nonfiction,” Moore gives readers a brief history of the journal, its considerable international reach, and what he has learned are a few enduring elements of the flash essay form. Of the experience, he writes, “I’ve been granted a continuing education in what is possible in the extremely concise nonfiction essay.” He offers guidance on craft, especially the vital element, voice, extending the invitation to read, learn, write, and teach with Brevity.

Zoë Bossiere, managing editor of Brevity since 2018, in “Flash, Present, and Future: A Brevity Retrospective,” shares with readers some touchstone moments in her journey with Brevity from the transformative experience of reading flash essays as an emerging writer in her undergraduate writing courses to utilizing its pedagogical resources as a teacher in her MFA program, to serving as its managing editor as a doctoral candidate and as a skilled, experienced writer. Bossiere approached Moore with the idea of an anthology that reflected the publication’s range and depth of the flash essay as well as the diversity and richness of its teaching and student resources. The result is an anthology and pedagogical resource that comes in at over 250 pages and displays its editors’ love and wonder for its forms and their commitment to supporting writers as teachers and learners. Bossiere writes, “Though the landscape of the writing world has undoubtedly changed in the more than twenty years since Brevity’s first issue, the flash essay endures as a perennial beacon of small truths.”

Small, concise, short, tiny, brief, compressed, flash—over the years, writers, editors, theorists, critics, and pedagogues have employed many terms to describe memoir, narrative, and hybrid forms at Brevity. The ones published and mentioned within The Best of Brevity are epic in their complexity and portrayal of human experience, skillfully crafted, innovative in form, technique, and perspective, and emotionally powerful and affective. The scope of perspective and identity offered by the eighty-four writers whose essays appear in this collection is extraordinary and shows the artistry and craft of what creative nonfiction can accomplish. I admire each essay in the collection but wish to recall a few that captured my attention and spoke to me personally, whose lines I highlighted through tears: They remain with me in vivid recollection long after I read them: Brenda Miller’s “The Shape of Emptiness,” Torrey Peter’s “Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Found Essay,” Jenny Boully’s “I Remain Very Sorry for What I Did to the Little Black Kitten,” Vincent Scarpa’s “I Go Back to Berryman’s,” A. Papatya Bucak’s “An Address to My Fellow Faculty Who Have Asked Me to Speak About My Work,” and Roxane Gay’s “There Are Distances Between Us.”

The Best of Brevity also is a powerhouse of pedagogy. It provides two tables of contents, one by title and author name, and one by subject and form. The essays collected here fall into the following forms: the braided essay, fragmented or sectioned essay, graphic memoir, numbered or list essay, hermit crab or found form, lyric essay, micro essay, and the research essay. Further resources include direction on teaching the flash essay and an in-depth guide to pairing The Best of Brevity with The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. Both volumes comprise a course in short-form creative nonfiction.

Contributors: Marcia Aldrich, Brian Arundel, Samuel Autman, Julie Hakim Azzam, Krys Malcolm Belc, Jenny Boully, Nina Boutsikaris, Traci Brimhall, A. Papatya Bucak, Amy Butcher, Christine Byl, Shuly Xóchitl Cawood, Jennie Chia-Hui Chu, Jill Christman, Steven Church, Nicole Cyrus, Jaquira Díaz, Beverly Donofrio, Brian Doyle, Erika Dreifus, Laurie Lynn Drummond, Pam Durban, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Tessa Fontaine, Josey Foo, Matthew Gavin Frank, Joey Franklin, Roxane Gay, Danielle Geller, Charlotte Gullick, Rajpreet Heir, Daisy Hernández, B.J. Hollars, Sonya Huber, Lori Jakiela, Dani Johannesen, Sam Kiss, Matthew Komatsu, Sandra Gail Lambert, Sarah J. Lin, Sonja Livingston, Bret Lott, Lee Martin, Michael Martone, Debra Marquart, Rebecca McClanahan, John A. McDermott, Brenda Miller, Kathryn Miller, Kyle Minor, Ander Monson, Erin Murphy, Randon Billings Noble, Joe Oestreich, Jamila Osman, Michelle Otero, Patricia Park, Dustin Parsons, Torrey Peters, Deesha Philyaw, Lia Purpura, Kristen Radtke, Robert Root, Vincent Scarpa, J.D. Schraffenberger, Heather Sellers, Diane Seuss, Jennifer Sinor, Suzanne Farrell Smith, Sam Stokley, Mark Stricker, Ira Sukrungruang, Deborah Taffa, Jill Talbot, Christina Tang-Bernas, Thao Thai, Abigail Thomas, Jia Tolentino, Brian Trapp, Michelle Valois, Anna Vodicka, Julie Marie Wade, Nicole Walker, and Alexis Wiggins.

The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction is available from Rose Metal Press.

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April Bradley is a Durham, North Carolina-based writer of short-form fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize as well as for The Best of Small Fictions and the Best of the Net Anthologies. Her writing appears in CHEAP POP, Hypertrophic Literary, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Narratively, NANO Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Thrice Fiction, among others. She earned a MAR in Ethics from Yale University and is an MFA student at Sewanee. Her research and writing interests focus on experimental and hybrid narrative forms that explore trauma recovery, memory, mothering, and grief. She serves as a submissions editor at both SmokeLong Quarterly and Pidgeonholes.

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