ON ANTHOLOGIES AS CHEMICAL COMPOUNDS:
"...[B]efore that day I had never heard of Louise Bogan—I a graduate student keenly interested in modernist poetry, she a modernist poet who rearranged the chemicals in my brain. I had taken courses in modernist poetry. Why hadn’t I heard of Bogan? The answer was simple—no one had included her on a syllabus. I realized that I knew only what I had been given to know, that there were specific hands and tastes and interests and blind spots and chemicals assembling what was put before me in anthologies and textbooks to document the writing of a period, of a genre, of history. So too, professors would choose what their classes would read and not read. There was nothing inevitable or impersonal about their selections. Books are made things, as are magazines and literary journals, and particular people determine what particular people to put inside them."
ON WOMEN (HERSELF INCLUDED) IN BAE:
"I undertook a survey to ascertain the counts of men and women authors chosen by the volume’s editor in each issue of the BAE series. The title of most lopsided arbiter falls to Stephen Jay Gould, who in 2002, among twenty-four essays, included four by women. 20:4. I’m sorry to report that his numbers are not outliers. I was surprised when I returned to the best of 1993 to find that Joseph Epstein included only five essays by women (17:5)—surprised because one of mine, “Hair,” made the cut. It hadn’t occurred to me to notice the number of women in the volume. Had I done so, I would have counted myself a rarified thing. This omission of thinking says something about me, that I was simply happy to make it against the odds. I’m not unique in this response. Women have too often accepted paltry representation, pleased to be represented at all."
ON CHERYL STRAYED AS CHEMIST AND CARTOGRAPHER:
"Strayed is notable for the range of sources in her volume, which is perhaps greater than that of any other BAE editor. She covers a spectrum of publications in all their wild variety, from standard-bearers like the New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and Paris Review to the well-known literary journals River Teeth, The Sun, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, Granta, Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Southwest Review, Normal School, and Hotel Amerika, and on to some relative newcomers. Strayed is expansive in her judgments—with one arm she embraces a seasoned pro like Alice Munro and with the other welcomes a newcomer like Vicki Weiqi Yang in South Loop Review, a little-known literary journal that has since gone defunct. She is sweeping in her tastes, giving us rapid glimpses of the terrain, like Camilla in Virgil or Pope. Rather than immersing us in the New Yorker style, she guides us across a literary region that she herself has constructed."
ON AUTHORSHIP AND AUTHORITY:
"Why would anyone care about my birth or the birth of my daughter? I’m not a somebody, not a king or army captain with death on his hands. I am no statesman, haven’t invented a cure. I’m Shakespeare’s sister without a famous brother, more likely to be found at the side of the road than have roads named after me. Who would care about my origins, how I began or the story I tell my daughter about her birth? Birth is as common as dirt, as common as death. Bah to my matrilineage, this story of rewriting an old script—that’s blah!
"But this stopping, this lifting up of one’s head to ask whether what matters to me matters to anyone else must be worked through. If it isn’t, then silence. The working through, the doing battle with one’s place in the world, one’s voice, becomes part of the essay, the base line thrumming below what the essay is about."
Like many other Essay Daily advent gifts, this is just a really great essay. You should read the entire thing here, even after the holidays.