Maureen Stanton's Reviews > The Best American Essays 2011

The Best American Essays 2011 by Edwidge Danticat
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Oct 19, 11

Read in October, 2011

This edition is misnamed: there are two actual "essays" in the collection (Iyer, and Zadie Smith's excellent, thought provoking piece), two short "lyrical essasy" (Church, Purpura) and the rest are memoirs, some standouts (Katy Butler's piece about her aged father lingering in poor health and kept alive by a pacemaker) and Charlie LeDuff's piece on a killing in Detroit that is a synecdoche for all the woes of that city, though I'd call this piece literary journalism cum memoir). The rest are mostly good, solid memoirs--they don't provoke thinking or introduce me to new ideas as a great essay can. Once piece, Christine Vannoy's "A Personal Essay by a Personal Essay" is an absurd experimental meta-piece that is so poorly written and simplistic in its idea that it reads like an undergraduate creative writing exercise--and shows only that Vannoy has no idea what a personal essay is (perhaps that's poetic justice for this collection of mostly non-essays).

No big deal. Just call it what it is. Best (questionable) American Memoir Writing.
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message 1: by Peter (new)

Peter Masters I am always fascinated when people tear down the accomplishments of others, especially when done with a meaness that serves only to expose themselves more than the object of their critique. It seems this reviewer doesn't understand the premise for Ms. Vannoy's piece. I believe the writer isn't satirizing the higher form of essay, she's deconstructing and poking fun at the genre of "personal essay" that one might find in the pages of Glamour or Cosmo--an entirely different animal that the author deemed ripe for mockery. I found her work to be fresh and delightful. This review had a personal feel to it and made me wonder if Ms. Stanton knows the author and simply dislikes her. Perhaps the next edition will be worthy enough to include Ms. Stanton's work??


Maureen Stanton I do not know the author at all, but I teach this genre in a graduate program, so I have read extensively in memoir, essay, and literary journalism. I found Vannoy's piece facile; this is my opinion. Why would you suggest immediately that "I do not understand the premise of Ms. Vannoy's piece" rather than simply accept this as a difference of opinion. My response to this work has nothing to do with the author, whom I do not know. (My own essays have been listed as "Notable" in BEA five times. Whether the next edition will be "worthy" enough to include my work is beside the point, as each edition reflects the interests and associations of the guest editor.)

My critique did not "tear down" any accomplishments, and it was not mean-spirited. It was my opinion, based on being deeply read in this genre, and being a writer and teacher of this genre. Why would you single out the critique of a piece I did not like as "mean" and not even mention the high praise I gave to several other pieces in this collection (and to the collection as a whole)? I'm commenting on the work on the page, not the writer, not his or her intention, but only my opinion of it, and this, of course, is the venue to do just that.


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