For a while now, I’ve framed these issue previews with some reflections on the season and then welcomed, along with our returning writers, contributors new to the quarterly. And while I’m composing this just a couple of days after summer’s official end, during a week when autumn seems to have finally established itself on the Mountain (there’s a touch of steel in the clear blue air and the sun on the still-green leaves is at once paler and weaker), I thought I’d follow fall’s lead and change things up.
When we put together this magazine, there are often strange and, at times, magical synchronicities in the work of our contributors. But rarely do issues converge quite like this one does. I’ve been a fan of poet Dana Levin ever since I first heard her read back in 2014, and now that I finally have the chance to publish her, it happens that both she and returning contributor Malerie Willens writes powerfully on our unfolding climate disaster. Garrett Hongo and new contributor Brian T. Edwards all wrestle movingly with the theme of paternity. (Added fall bonus: Edwards’ essay is about baseball.) Carrie R. Moore, also debuting in our pages, tells a tale of physical and spiritual recovery that dovetails with Megan Mayhew Bergman’s story of atonement, Christian Lorentzen’s review of Donald Antrim’s harrowing memoir of Antrim’s first suicide attempt, as well as Justin Taylor’s appraisal of Dana Spiotta’s new novel Wayward; all four are rooted, to use Antrim’s words, “in the loss of home and belonging.”
Our country continues to wrestle with issues of race and social justice, and these themes are subtly explored in Alice McDermott’s story “Half Spent” as well as in Roger Reeves’s poems. And within our special feature on the Installation of our University’s new vice-chancellor, Reuben E. Brigety II, the first Black person ever to be appointed to the position, you’ll find four writers continuing to grapple with these issues, especially as they pertain to Sewanee and its history. Sewanee professors Anthony Donaldson, Courtney Thompson, and Woody Register explore the issue through personal experience as well as national and local history. Their contributions are both a celebration of Brigety’s historic appointment as well an effort at illumination, given the University founders’ slaveholding past and its still-fraught—but hopeful—present. Meanwhile, author Tracy Thompson charts the evolution of her own thinking about race as both a southerner growing up in Georgia and a journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Vice-Chancellor Brigety concludes this section with an essay that, to my mind, is one of the most authentically hopeful paths forward for the University and this nation during these roiled times.
Perhaps my desire to reconsider my approach to these previews rhymes with the craft essay by our editor at large, Danielle Evans. Her essay discusses her shift from thinking about fiction in terms of agency and empathy toward an interrogation of “our own role in the particular cultural toxicity that suggests all versions of a story are equally valid as long as some human somewhere believes they are.” Our struggles continue, while autumn—that blessed break from summer’s oppressive heat—seems to arrive later with each passing year.