• Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

    Adam Ross

    Summer 2023

    Living in Tennessee these past (nearly) three decades, I’ve found that July is not only the hottest month but also the one in which the summer attempts to name itself. It’s the summer, then, of forest fires. The summer of smoke. The summer, at least for a couple of news cycles, of yet another manifestation of climatological disaster. Here in Sewanee, we got a lungful for several days when a churning low-pressure system spun the vapors southeast. Air quality plummeted on the Mountain. Roark’s Cove, that valley vista of spectacular farmland normally visible from the bluff, was obfuscated by a scrim of yellow haze. If you were visiting the northeast or the midwest these past few weeks, the sky turned orange. “Now I know what the apocalypse looks like,” reported a friend from Wisconsin. Her sun, she said, was a molten clementine in a smog-dimmed sky. Those N-95 masks once again came in handy, especially in New York City, where I was just on vacation. (Up there, it’s also been the summer of the shark attack, with five bites on Long Island that had bathers spooked over the Fourth. As of this writing, for northern New York, New England, and Vermont, it’s the summer of floods.) Such is the world in which we live.

    But I was on vacation, as I mentioned, and on a personal note, I will share that I’d just turned in my novel to my editor after nine years of labor. So instead of beginning my day with coffee and my manuscript, I, unburdened of my deadline—free, in a way that felt entirely unfamiliar and nearly uncanny—watched the sun come up every morning in our hosts’ yard, and listened to the birds, and read what I wanted, in this case, Edward P. Jones’s second story collection All of Aunt Hagar’s Children. I marveled at the muscularity of his prose, at his capacity to distend time in his narratives, to inject his capacious tales with what Joy Williams calls “an anagogical level,” and this instilled them with a wonder and magic that newly minted the world. And in short, I was refreshed.

    Speaking of renewal, this is the first issue under my editorship in which every contributor to its pages is new to the magazine. Writers Josie Abugov, Alexis Cheung, María José Candela, Annabel Graham, and Daryl Qilin Yam were all either runners up or finalists in last year’s contest, and we feel lucky to have discovered them through that platform. We welcome poetry from first-time contributors Mag Gabbert, Stefania Gomez, Noel Yu-Jen, and James Davis, as well as fiction from Nick Marshall and Robert Travieso. You can also enjoy the remarkable photographs of Huger Foote. Finally, there’s a craft essay from Jess Walter, a writer whom I’ve long admired, and who stumbles upon “a novel metaphor so big, so perfect, so profound, that I nearly wept at its genius.” It’s about golf. Which means that, like the state of our environment, it, too, is a disaster. And in his masterful hands is also hilarious.

    Adam Ross is the editor of the Sewanee Review, as well as the author of the novel Mr. Peanut and the short story collection Ladies and Gentlemen.

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