Discerned, ascertained, unearthed, coerced, conceived, stumbled upon—discoveries can take many forms, announcing themselves, sneaking up from behind, hooking you by the ear, or whispering into it. When we read and study them, we see other minds in key moments of thought, other ways of perceiving the world, and this in turn urges us toward a greater understanding of our own assumptions, often unexamined, about living. As embodied in written works, discoveries are also constructed, calculated, and shaped, no matter how natural or spontaneous they might appear on the page. When we read and study them, we come to see how writings of various kinds can be effective in moving us, getting us to see things anew, and to make discoveries of our own.
This book came about as the result of a discovery: namely, that the long-standing model of North American literary magazines, the frontline in American publishing of the highest quality poetry, essays, and short stories, tends to be linked almost exclusively with professional writing programs in colleges and universities, and, as a result, tends to have very little connection to writers and readers at a more formative stage of their encounter with literature. This often means that what these students get to read is not nearly so fresh or exciting as what’s actually being written and published very close to them, and they miss, without even knowing it, that magical discovery of the kinds of literary nonfiction that are not journalism, and poetry that pushes the boundaries of what poetry is usually thought to be, and fiction that asks about meaning and meaning making; they miss, in short, literature that compels a second reading, and a third, and a fourth, and makes you want to write yourself. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen if we put a selection of some of the newest, most vibrant writing—gleaned from recent issues of The Iowa Review—into their hands, but, like many discoveries, the idea took hold in our hearts and would not let go until we made it public.
Teachers will, we believe, find this book of particular help in their work. While all the literature collected here was originally published for the magazine’s regular readers, it has been selected for reprinting in this context with students and teachers in mind. Teachers have played a central role in the selection process, and it is our profound hope that teachers will find the essays, poems, and stories in this volume sufficiently compelling to develop curricular materials to accompany them. To help them in their work, we’ve solicited some materials to start, and we’ve created a dedicated website for sharing and dissemination. If you’re a teacher, we would love for you to join us in making public the vital work that you already do.
—Russell Scott Valentino