The Best American Essays 2017

Edited and with an Introduction by Leslie Jamison
Robert Atwan, Series Editor

"THE ESSAY IS POLITICAL—and politically useful, by which I mean humanizing and provocative—because of its commitment to nuance, its explorations of contingency, its spirit of unrest, its glee at overturned assumptions; because of the double helix of awe and distrust—faith and doubt—that structures its DNA," writes guest editor Leslie Jamison in her introduction. From the Iraqi desert to an East Jerusalem refugee camp, from the beginnings of the universe to the aftermath of a suicide attempt, the genetic makeup of the eclectic and electric selections in The Best American Essays 2017 "thrill toward complexity."

Copyright © 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
Introduction copyright © 2017 by Leslie Jamison
ISBN 978-0-544-81733-3


Foreword by Robert Atwan     ix

Introduction by Leslie Jamison     xvi

JASON ARMENT   Two Shallow Graves   1
   from The Florida Review

RACHEL KAADZI GHANSAH   The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin   16
   from BuzzFeed

   from Alaska Quarterly Review

LAWRENCE JACKSON   The City That Bleeds  45
   from Harper's Magazine

RACHEL KUSHNER   "We Are Orphans Here"   60
   from The New York Times Magazine

ALAN LIGHTMAN   What Came Before the Big Bang?   72
   from Harper's Magazine

EMILY MALONEY   Cost of Living   82
   from The Virginia Quarterly Review

GREG MARSHALL   If I Only Had a Leg   91
   from Electronic Literature

BERNARD FARAI MATAMBO   Working the City   104
   from Transition

KENNETH A. McCLANE   Sparrow Needy   115
   from Kenyon Review

KATHERINE VENABLE   The Book of the Dead   128
   from Oxford American

WESLEY MORRIS   Last Taboo   160
   from The New York Times Magazine

CHRISTOPHER NOTARNICOLA   Indigent Disposition   176
   from North American Review

MEGHAN O'GIEBLYN   Dispatch from Flyover Country   180
   from The Threepenny Review

KAREN PALMER   The Reader Is the Protagonist   192
   from The Virginia Quarterly Review

   from n+1

HEATHER SELLERS   Haywire   232
   from Tin House

ANDREA STUART   Travels in Pornland   252
   from Granta

JUNE THUNDERSTORM   Revenge of the Mouthbreathers: A Smoker's Manifesto   267
   from The Baffler

ALIA VOLZ   Snakebit   275
   from The Threepenny Review

Contributors’ Notes   285

Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2016   291

Notable Special Issues of 2016   301

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