essays Features

9 Dazzling Small-Press Essay Collections You May Have Missed

On nature, politics, identity, food, and more.

The offices of the Chicago Review of Books were buzzing this year with excitement over essays (yes, we’re huge geeks). That’s because 2019 gave us some of the best essay collections in recent memory, many of which came out on independent and university presses. We love, love, love small presses and love the work they publish, but because they have small marketing teams, their books don’t always get the coverage they deserve. Here are some of our favorite essay collections out on small presses this year that you may have missed.

Resurrection of the Wild: Meditations on Ohio’s Natural Landscape
By Deborah Fleming
The Kent State University Press

“Yosemite National Park, Louisiana’s bayou, the rocky coasts of New England, the desert Southwest—America’s more dramatic locations are frequently celebrated for their natural beauty, but far less has been written about Ohio’s unique and beautiful environment. Author Deborah Fleming, who has lived in rural Ohio and cared for its land for decades, shares fourteen interrelated essays, blending her own experiences with both scientific and literary research. Resurrection of the Wild discusses both natural and human histories as it focuses on the Allegheny Plateau and hill country in Ohio’s eastern counties.”

My Seditious Heart: Collected Nonfiction
By Arundhati Roy
Haymarket Books

“Bookended by her two award-winning novels, The God of Small Things (1997) and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (2017), My Seditious Heart collects the work of a two-decade period when Arundhati Roy devoted herself to the political essay as a way of opening up space for justice, rights, and freedoms in an increasingly hostile world. Taken together, the essays speak in a voice of unique spirit, marked by compassion, clarity, and courage.”

Dispatches from the End of Ice: Essays
By Beth Peterson
Trinity University Press

Dispatches from the End of Ice is part science, part lyric essay, and part research reportage—all structured around a series of found artifacts (a map, a museum, an inventory, a book) in an attempt to understand the idea of disappearance. It is a brilliant synthesis of science, storytelling, and research in the spirit of essayists like Robert Macfarlane, John McPhee, and Joni Tevis. Peterson’s work veers into numerous terrains, orbiting the idea of vanishing and the taxonomies of loss both in an unstable world and in our individual lives.”

Invisible People : Stories of Lives at the Margins
By Alex Tizon; Edited by Sam Howe Verhovek
Temple University Press

“Every human being has an epic story. The late Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Alex Tizon told the epic stories of marginalized people—from lonely immigrants struggling to forge a new American identity to a high school custodian who penned a New Yorker short story. Edited by Tizon’s friend and former colleague Sam Howe Verhovek, Invisible People collects the best of Tizon’s rich, empathetic accounts—including “My Family’s Slave,” the Atlantic magazine cover story about the woman who raised him and his siblings under conditions that amounted to indentured servitude.”

Some of Us Are Very Hungry Now
By Andre Perry
Two Dollar Radio

“With luminous insight and fervent prose, Andre Perry’s debut collection of personal essays, Some of Us Are Very Hungry Now, travels from Washington, DC, to Iowa City to Hong Kong in search of both individual and national identity. While displaying tenderness and a disarming honesty, Perry catalogs racial degradations committed on the campuses of elite universities and liberal bastions like San Francisco while coming of age in America.”

Read our review here.

Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers
Edited by Natalie Eve Garrett
Catapult

“This collection of intimate, illustrated essays by some of America’s most well-regarded literary writers explores how comfort food can help us cope with dark times—be it the loss of a parent, the loneliness of a move, or the pain of heartache.”

On Our Way Home from the Revolution: Reflections on Ukraine
By Sonya Bilocerkowycz
The Ohio State University Press

“In these linked essays, Bilocerkowycz invites readers to meet a swirling cast of post-Soviet characters, including a Russian intelligence officer who finds Osama bin Laden a few weeks after 9/11; a Ukrainian poet whose nose gets broken by Russian separatists; and a long-lost relative who drives a bus into the heart of Chernobyl. On Our Way Home from the Revolution muddles our easy distinctions between innocence and complicity, agency and fate.”

Incidental Inventions
By Elena Ferrante
Europa Editions

“‘This is my last column, after a year that has scared and inspired me.’ With these words, Elena Ferrante, the bestselling author of My Brilliant Friend, bid farewell to her year-long collaboration with the Guardian. For a full year she penned short pieces, the subjects of which had been suggested by Guardian editors, making the writing process a sort of prolonged interlocution. The subjects ranged from first love to climate change, from enmity among women to the adaptation of her novels to film and TV.”

Whose Story Is This?: Old Conflicts, New Chapters
By Rebecca Solnit
Haymarket Books

“Who gets to shape the narrative of our times? The current moment is a battle royale over that foundational power, one in which women, people of color, non-straight people are telling other versions, and white people and men and particularly white men are trying to hang onto the old versions and their own centrality. In Whose Story Is This? Rebecca Solnit appraises what’s emerging and why it matters and what the obstacles are.”

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