national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2011

Cultural Memory and “Gauche Chemistry”

The third and final issue of plain china 2011 launches today, featuring the work of promising undergraduate writers and artists from LSU, Emerson, Dartmouth, Prescott College, the University of Miami, Bennington, and Harvard, to name a few. We’ve saved the prize-winning nonfiction piece, “Gauche Chemistry,” for dessert, and rightly so. The essay is a raucous narrative of observations of the Chicago bar scene, written with unassuming hilarity. Nonfiction judge Jonathan Lethem praises it as “a piece that sizzles in the reader’s hands, bursting with fresh detail, breakneck swerves in the voice, and kinetic syntax…”

The detailed observations in “Gauche Chemistry” stand out as especially pertinent to both the author, Frank Schweihs, and to the reader, as a cultural onlooker. This mode of observation is how many writers work, including this year’s poetry judge Eleanor Wilner, who has identified herself as a poet who works from “cultural memory” rather than a personal one. Her work attempts to “rescue the human person, to revision the human figure obscured in the myth, the historical event, the inherited tradition,” according to Rebecca Seiferle of The Drunken Boat. Check out Seiferle’s extensive interview with Wilner here. Wilner is the author of eight books of poetry, and the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the MacArthur “genius grant.” You can watch her reading at Villanova University here.

We leave you with a wish for a happy Monday morning’s reading. Video from our launch party is forthcoming, so check back soon. We’re also currently accepting journals to review for plain china 2012; please be in touch if you would like to send us your school’s journal.

March Madness

Welcome to the third annual plain china anthology! After another busy fall full of reading and editing, we’re ready to crack the windows and air out some new plain china material. Issue One, which launches on Monday, March 26th, will feature work  from schools such as LSU, University of Georgia, Princeton University, Bard College, Harvard University, and UC-Berkeley, Northwestern, and Stanford University. We think this year’s group of contributing authors is fantastic, as does nonfiction judge Jonathan Lethem, who had this to say: “Overall this was a thrilling group of finalists to consider, each one worthy of a salute, and speaking great things about the state of undergraduate writing.”

Essayist, novelist, and short-story writer Lethem has received a National Book Critics Circle Award for his novel, Motherless Brooklyn, among other achievements. Check out this interview of Lethem by plain china’s own 2011 fiction judge, Lorin Stein of The Paris Review, to learn more.

In other news, for those of you in the Bennington area, don’t forget to swing by the plain china launch party at 7pm on Monday, the 26th. There will be live music, food, and editors reading excerpts from this year’s  award-winning pieces. For those of you reading from afar, we’ll be posting videos and photos from the reading to the editors’ blog later this week.