The venerable literary annual turns 40, with no signs of slowing down. Editor Henderson, whose brainchild the prize was, customarily includes a rather dour state of the publishing union address in his introductory remarks. Here, he invokes literary lion Leon Wieseltier, who lamented the "bacchanal of disruption" that has left in its wake the corpses of so many bookstores and record shops, "destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry." Against this gloom, Henderson is unusually cheerful: he holds that the future is so bright for small-press types that they've got to wear shades, provided someone else buys them since there's no money in the culture biz. The anthology speaks to that, its contributions coming from comparatively well-heeled venues like Paris Review and American Poetry Review but also from scruffy little magazines out on the fringes of the publishing world, if still mostly concentrated around the cultural centers of the Northeast. As ever, among what Henderson enumerates as "68 poems, stories, essays, and memoirs from 51 presses," there are some remarkable standouts as well as a few pieces that don't make a dent. Colum McCann's story "Sh'khol" is a marvel of tragic compaction: within a hundred words, Irish parents adopt a Russian child with fetal alcohol syndrome, bubbling with happiness at the new arrival, and in the flash of seven years, divorce, the wife "living out west, her parents…gone, her task…doubled." Amazingly, things get worse. Joanna Scott's story "The Knowledge Gallery" is a smart, brooding piece of literary dystopia, though it's good to know that in the Soylent Greeny future there are still doughnut holes. Among the heavy hitters, Joyce Carol Oates, bracketing Wieseltier, wistfully recalls the beginnings of her career, when literary writers such as Truman Capote and Katherine Anne Porter appeared in the pages of fashion magazines: "How improbable this seems to us, by contemporary standards!" Indeed. But apart from presenting an overstuffed selection of good work, Pushcart affords room for hope. Here's looking forward to many more editions.
Dedicated to Pulitzer prize winning poet Philip Levine, who died this year, the latest edition of the Pushcart Prize marks its 40th anniversary. This volume is published and edited by the indomitable Henderson, who writes in the introduction about founding the series in 1975 (and includes some serious name-dropping: Paul Bowles, Ralph Ellison, Joyce Carol Oates), so it's assured of upholding the series' reputation for collecting the best writing from the small presses. The 69 writers represented in this volume are no less impressive than the series' founders. MacArthur-winner Lucia Perillo's poem, "Yellow Claw," from American Poetry Review, gets to the heart of a working man driving a backhoe; Zadie Smith's "Miss Adele Amidst the Corset," from the Paris Review, describes an incident in a modern-day corset store in New York City; Anthony Doerr contemplates the lives of the folks who occupied the log cabin he passes on Fort Street in Boise, Id., which he notices for the first time when he's driving his twin sons home in "Thing with Feathers That Perches in the Soul," from Granta. There are pieces from Ann Beattie, Wendell Berry, Dan Chaon, and Oates, all selected from submissions from over 700 presses. It's a wonderful edition, as always, and a testament to literature, as well as an incredibly satisfying reference for writers and readers everywhere. (Nov.)
As the cliché goes, an anthology is like a good party where guests meet friends old and new. At this party, new friends include Christian Kiefer and his story "Hollywood and Toadvine," about Ronald Reagan reading Danielle Steel and Cormac McCarthy novels sent to him by Mikhail Gorbachev. In the essay "Constance Bailey in the Year of Monica Lewinsky," Sarah Vallance details her time as a Harvard University student researching health care access for the poor, and the friendship she developed with 88-year-old Connie and an attack cat named Inky. The old friends here include "Map-Reading," Richard Bausch's tale about fiftysomething Benton meeting his twentysomething stepsister, whom he hasn't seen since she was three. Joyce Carol Oates relates her childhood reading experiences at a vegetable and fruit stand in Millersport, NY, in "The Childhood of the Reader." Poetry entries feature "The Autistic Son," a heart-tugging work by Scott Morgan, and Keetje Kuipers's "Migration Instinct," which begins with the haunting line: "Today the wife of the last man who made me lonely is having a baby." VERDICT The stories, memoirs, poems, and essays in this treasured compilation are worth the time of every reader. The blend and variety provides many reasons to enjoy the 40th anniversary edition.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL