Intro to “Meander”

I have vivid memories of working on the first issue of Creative Nonfiction with my wife (now my ex-wife), Patricia Park. We spread the manuscripts out on our dining room table, selected what we were going to publish, and edited and copyedited and proofread them carefully. We knew we could not permit any mistakes for the first issue; there was too much at stake. At last, we sent the final manuscript to our printer, and he sent us back proofs and then a galley—and we read and re-read everything again, and then we went to press.

It was thin, I knew—nine essays and a couple of ads. Ninety-two pages in all. But we thought it was beautiful, and we couldn’t wait for other people to see it.

The first piece was a very short essay, basically about essays and how they meander from subject to subject, idea to idea, seemingly without connection, twisting and turning and then somehow, thanks to the writer’s skill, converging to make a point. It seemed a fitting beginning to this new journal—the first piece the first readers would encounter.

One hundred and seventy-six people had pre-ordered copies. We hand-addressed manila envelopes and slipped the issues inside, licked the flaps and the stamps, and lugged it all to the post office in a couple of cardboard boxes.

That night, after we mailed the issues, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned and worried, and finally I went downstairs to the dining room to admire the first issue of Creative Nonfiction again—my vision fulfilled, with a green paper-tear design on the cover. After so much trauma and aggravation, it was here. It was real!

I picked up a copy, admired the names of the authors on the front. Michael Pearson’s contribution was at the top of the list: “Profile of New Yorker writer John McPhee.”

I opened the issue, flipped past the TOC and began reading that first essay, Mary Paumier Jones’s “Meander.” Suddenly, I realized—how could it be?—that something was terribly wrong: Two paragraphs—a significant chunk of text—were missing from the middle of the essay.

I was sure Mary Paumier Jones would be livid, and the journal’s and my credibility would be shot. What to do? How would we solve this—Creative Nonfiction’s first and most serious problem?

Fortunately, we worked out a solution that satisfied the author and our initial readers, and the experience was a good early lesson in editorial vigilance.

Here—published in its entirety—is that essay.                        

About the Author

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Lee Gutkind

Lee Gutkind is the author and editor of more than thirty books, including You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction–from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between, Almost Human: Making Robots Think, The Best Seat in Baseball: But You Have to Stand, Forever Fat: Essays by the Godfather, and the award-winning, Many Sleepless Nights: The World of Organ Transplantation.

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