national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014

Issue Three Highlights

The third issue of plain china 2012 went live June 1, featuring poems and prose from Brown, the University of Georgia, NYU, and Simmons College. We also feature an honorable mention in nonfiction—selected by  judge Susan Orlean—and artwork from Hampshire, Grinnell, Bennington, and Mary Baldwin College.

In anticipation of the first nonfiction honorable mention, here’s an apt metaphor for the art of creative essay writing, excerpted from Susan Orlean’s introduction to the Best American Essays 2005 (which she edited):

 


 

“Not long ago, I went to New Hampshire to watch some dogsled races, and during a break in the action I wandered into a hobby shop on the main drag of the town. It was a dusty old store, dim and crowded, the shelves loaded with the usual array of hobby gear: Popsicle sticks, model railroad switches, beads and buttons and toxic glue. I have no use for Popsicle sticks once the Popsicles are eaten, and no wish to build miniature railroads or embellish the surfaces of the objects in my home, so it seemed there was nothing in the store for me. But as I was about to leave, a large box behind the cash register caught my eye. It was, according to the label, the amazing Skilcraft Visible Cow, an anatomically accurate model kit featuring highly detailed parts representing the structures of the skeleton and vital organs. The picture on the label showed a big cow—a Guernsey, perhaps? or maybe a Milking Shorthorn?—made of some sort of clear glossy plastic. The exterior of the Visible Cow was invisible. The visible part of it was its innards, the major bones, the most popular organs, the spine, the ribs, the tongue. It was a marvelous construction, a complete inversion of the usual order of things: everything you usually expect to see of a cow was see-through, and everything you usually can’t make out was there, plain as day. The insides of the cow were held together by its transparent shell, which gave order and structure to the jumble of guts and skeleton and plumbing. I purchased the Visible Cow, and putting it together (which, according to the label, will allow me to Study Anatomy As You Build Your Visible Cow Model) is on my long- term To Do list. In the meantime, I keep the box in my office so I can look at it every day.

. . .

I know it’s ultimately impossible and probably unnecessary to define what an essay is, but I think the Visible Cow offers an interesting and tangible analogue. What holds an essay together, the cowhide, so to speak, should be nearly invisible. The best kind of structure should be organic, revealing only the very natural way a smart person’s mind works through a topic, making connections and forming conclusions as they occur. An essay can contain many thoughts and observations (those organs! those bones!) that might not seem to fit together, but in the end lead to a satisfying whole, a cow.”

 


 

Happy reading, and congratulations to all of our June-graduate contributors!