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.

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