Best American Essays 2012 Review

Well-told pieces on a narrow range of subjects define the latest iteration of the Best American Essays franchise.

This year’s batch of selections tends toward informative—sometimes wonkish—works of reportage and memoir. That should come as no surprise given that proudly egghead-ish New York Times columnist Brooks is doing the selecting. (As ever, series editor Robert Atwan performs the initial cull.) Brooks makes his intentions clear in his introduction, writing that “I want to be improved by the things I read”—much of which includes writing on medicine and health care: Eight of the 25 selections deal with the topic in some matter—nine if you include Jonathan Franzen’s “Farther Away,” featuring some musings on his friend David Foster Wallace’s depression and suicide. Some writers attack the subject in dry expository prose, as in Marcia Angell’s “The Crazy State of Psychiatry,” which condemns the overdiagnosis of mood disorders. More often, though, the topic gets a personal touch, as in Miah Arnold’s “You Owe Me,” an essay on teaching writing to children in a cancer ward, or David J. Lawless’ brutal recollection of his wife’s descent into Alzheimer’s, “My Father/My Husband,” masterfully told almost entirely in dialogue. America’s education system is another pressure point for Brooks, who picks a clutch of pieces on the subject, the best being Garret Keizer’s straight-talking memoir of his time teaching poor elementary school kids, “Getting Schooled.” The downside of Brooks’ improvement agenda means humor is in short supply, notwithstanding Sandra Tsing Loh’s raucous meditation on menopause, “The Bitch Is Back.” Provocation and invention are rare too, though Mark Doty’s beautifully turned “Insatiable” savvily merges the friendship between Walt Whitman and Bram Stoker with the author’s own obsessions and fetishes. Other notable contributors include Francine Prose, Joseph Epstein, Malcolm Gladwell and Alan Lightman.

A trove of fine writing on big issues, albeit at the expense of more playful exemplars of the contemporary essay.


The 2014 winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Award, Angela Morales, whose manuscript The Girls in My Town was selected by bestselling author Cheryl Strayed as a River Teeth winner from five finalists chosen by co-editors Joe Mackall and Dan Lehman, won the 2017 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for Art of the Essay in March 2017.

The Pushcart Prize Board of Contributing Editors selected a piece of flash nonfiction from the River Teeth weekly “Beautiful Things” column. Author Kate Levin's piece, titled “Resting Place" won the Pushcart Award in 2016, and has been selected for reprint in Pushcart Prize XLI: Best of the Small Presses to be published this coming November. 

Four River Teeth authors were listed on this year's Best American Essays list of Notable Essay and Literary Nonfiction for 2016:

  • "Evidence" by Jennifer Lunden (Spring 2015)
  • "Breath" by Judith Kitchen (Spring 2015)  
  • "A Grave on the High Plains" by Stephen Benz (Fall 2015)
  • "Going Back to Plum Island" by Jill Christman (Fall 2015) 

The Writer magazine's November 2015 issue features River Teeth in their Literary Spotlight section.

2015's Best American Essays list of Notable Essay and Literary Nonfiction included several essays from River Teeth:

  • En Memoriam - Chelsea Biondolillo
  • Black Marks - Sydney Lea
  • An Inability to Control Objects Around Me - Britt Leach
  • Reflections of a Moderately Disturbed Grandfather - Joe Mackall
  • Heart Sounds - Lee Martin
  • A Pilgrimage to Dennis Hopper - Ron Clinton Smith

Kim Todd's essay "Curious," which appeared in River Teeth issue 15.2, has been chosen for the 2015 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing Anthology reprint. 

Ira Sukrungruang's essay, "A Meditation on Pain," was shared on as a Longreads Member Pick in January 2015.

One essay published in River Teeth 14.1 was listed as notable in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014:

  • "Rebirth" by Katie Fallon

One essay published in River Teeth 14.2 was reprinted in Best American Essays 2014:

  • "Someone Else" by Chris Offutt

... and two essays published in River Teeth were listed as notable in Best American Essays 2014:

"Writing and Publishing a Memoir: What in the Hell Have I Done?" by Andre Dubus III (Volume 14, Number 1 - Fall 2012) was awarded a Pushcart Prize in 2013.

One essay published in River Teeth 14.1 was listed as notable in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013:

  • "The Shooter" by Eli Sanders

Two essays published in River Teeth 13.2 are reprinted in Best American Essays 2013:

  • "The Book of Knowledge" by Steven Harvey
  • "Triage" by Jon Kerstetter

...and five essays published in River Teeth were listed as notable in Best American Essays 2013: posted a review of 14.1 by Mary Florio.

Six essays published in River Teeth were listed as notable in Best American Essays 2012: posted a review of 13.1 by Cara Bigony.

The winner of the 2010 Book Prize, A Double Life by Lisa Catherine Harper, was #4 on the 2011 Best of the Small Presses List from the National Book Critics Circle.

Jill Noel Kandel's "Burial Cloth Removed," which appeared in Volume 12, Number 1, was reprinted in The Best Spiritual Writing 2012. posted a review of 12.1 by Sima Rabinowitz.

Mohja Kahf's "The Caul of Inshallah," appearing in Volume 11, Number 1, was selected for reprint in Pushcart Prize XXXV. posted a review of 11.1 by Sima Rabinowitz.

Four essays from River Teeth were given honorable mentions in The Best American Essay 2009.

Margot Singer's "Afterimage," appearing in Volume 9, Issue 2 was nominated for inclusion in the 34th Edition of the Pushcart Prize.

The folks over at have posted a review of 9.2 by Sima Rabinowitz.

Omar Eby's "A Distraught Woman" and Lee Martin's "Such a Life" were chosen as Notable Essays of 2006 in The Best American Essays, 2007.

Jo Scott-Coe's lyric piece, "In/Out", which appeared in a 2006 issue of Ninth Letter, is currently featured as a literary podcast. A collaboration between the journal and the theater arts department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is building an online archive of literary podcasts for NL, and they’ve selected "In/Out" for the project.

Visit their website throughout the month of October at After October, the piece will be a permanent part of the archive.

Excerpts from "To Box the Wind" by Tom Montgomery-Fate (published in Issue 9.1 of River Teeth) may be heard online at the following links: "Channeling Thoreau" (NPR), and "Box of Wind" (Chicago Public Radio) - Scroll down to November 9.

The 2007 River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize winner, Brandon R. Schrand, had his memoir, The Enders Hotel, selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers 2008 summer reading list.

River Teeth has had two pieces chosen for The Best American Essays, 2005. U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s essay “Small Rooms in Time,” and Sam Pickering’s “Dog Days” were featured in The Best American Essays, 2005’s editor was New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. Both essays appeared in the spring 2004 issue.

Philip Gerard's piece "More Things in Heaven and Earth" was chosen as a Notable Essay of 2004 in The Best American Essays, 2004.

Brad Younkin's "Speed of Memory" won a Pushcart Prize in 2005. It appeared in the spring 2003 issue of River Teeth.

Steven Harvey's "Laying On of Hands," James A. McLaughlin's "¡No Parsan!--Rage and ORVs," and Rebecca McClanahan's "Signs and Wonders" were chosen from River Teeth as Notable Essays of 2003 in The Best American Essays, 2004.

Both A. Loudermilk's "Clutching Pearls" and Michael W. Raymond's "A Not-So-Tall Tale" were chosen from River Teeth as Notable Essays of 2002 in The Best AmericanEssays, 2002.

Ann M. Bauer's piece "The Oil Man" was selected from River Teeth as a Notable Essay of 2000 in The Best American Essays, 2001.

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