My first reaction to Creative Nonfiction’s issue 17 was to wince. The journal had the same front cover design for each issue back then, with only a color change and new number, and I suppose it was inevitable that canary yellow would come along eventually. But it was not the magazine’s best day, design-wise.
Then I opened to Bret Lott’s essay “Against Technique” and never gave the color another thought. Lott’s craft piece is a brilliant, impassioned love letter to “the unquenchably burning, unappeasably hungry, naggingly doubtful, and exhaustively self-motivated desire to find meaning” and “the discovery that awaits in the making of creative nonfiction.” It remains one of the finest craft essays I’ve ever read—one that I teach, recommend, and re-read often.
Then there is Michael Rosenwald’s artful “Travels with John McPhee,” in which we get the classic line “Were McPhee writing this piece, he would have hung out with himself for a long time. . . .” I’m still grinning at that one.
Issue 17 is solid with vivid essay work from the likes of Brian Doyle, Molly Peacock, Laurie Stone, Stephen Benz, and Greg Bottoms, but my hands-down favorite when I first read the issue was “Ramalamadingdong,” Elena Passarello’s simply brilliant dissection of the music we love—from William Shakespeare’s “hey nonny-nonny” to Buddy Holly, The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen, Puff Daddy to Macy Gray. Passarello brings a strong ear for the sung lyric and a considerable understanding of music and music theory to the page, but she is also a master of the crisp, elegant sentence, and offers reportage worthy of Gay Talese.
Lee Gutkind notes in his brief introductory essay, “We are especially pleased to be publishing Passarello, an actor whose writing is appearing here in a national publication for the first time. This is an event that we vigorously embrace, for it fulfills one of the primary missions of Creative Nonfiction: to not only publish the best and most prominent writers possible, but also to discover and showcase bright new voices in the literary arts.”
That was roughly a dozen years ago. Just this past year, Passarello, whose work has appeared widely in magazines since her CNF introduction, published her first book, Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays, praised as a “striking debut” by Publishers Weekly and tied for a Gold Medal in Essay/Creative Nonfiction in the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
I knew all along that I hadn’t heard the last of her.
– Dinty W. Moore