The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction
edited by Zoë Boissiere and Dinty W. Moore
Rose Metal Press, 2020
reviewed by Seana Graham
Although I’ve become more aware of flash fiction through a circle of writers I know, and have even written a bit myself, I hadn’t really thought about flash nonfiction until this book came my way, although now it seems obvious that there would be an interest in and opportunity for it. Brevity began as an online magazine started by Dinty W. Moore, who didn’t expect it to last more than a year or two. The Best of Brevity celebrates the twentieth anniversary of this little experiment.
In the introduction, Moore writes of the expansion of his own thinking over the years on what a 750-words or less essay is capable of expressing. His assumption originally was that such a short piece would have to be just one scene and cover a very short period of time. By the time this anthology was compiled, though, all such theories had been put to rest. Within, you’ll find pieces that are simply running lists of found items from newspapers or reports (“Women These Days” by Amy Butcher, “Transgender Day of Remembrance” by Torrey Peters), a piece told only in footnotes (“How to Discuss Race as a White Person” by Sam Stokley), a cartoon (“Perdition” by Kristen Radtke). You’ll find an essay that’s just one long run-on sentence (“I hoisted them, two drug dealers, I guess that’s what they were” by Diane Seuss.)
Moore still retains a few ideas on what makes a flash nonfiction piece work, but he finds the most important one to be voice.
What I want is the sense that someone particular has experienced the circumstances of the flash story, and that someone is telling the story, and telling it as only they can, different than you might tell it, and different than the way any other author in that issue of the magazine might tell it. A particular voice on the page.
As co-editor Zoë Bossiere writes, the magazine’s commitment to diversity has grown over time and you will find many pieces on race, gender and disability within these pages. As someone who first learned of Brevity while still an undergrad and is now a doctoral candidate, it is natural for her to focus on its teachable qualities. At the end of the book, you’ll find guides for using the anthology to teach flash nonfiction, which seems a very good way to help students tap their own latent writing potential, as well as some alternate tables of contents, which group pieces by subject as well as form. The book can also be paired with another book from Rose Metal Press, The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction. (They have a similar volume on writing flash fiction if that’s more your thing.)
As I look back over this volume, I’m reminded of how many different perspectives I’ve been able to come in contact with just from reading this one small book. Some essays are nearly universal in theme and some give you a small window into a world you haven’t really even thought about. I am grateful for all of them.
Brevity continues to exist as an online magazine, to which I’ll offer a link below. It’s free. Take a look. And after you do, maybe you’ll find that you might just have a little something you’d really like to submit.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She has also reviewed for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. The recent anthology, Annihilation Radiation from Storgy Press, includes one of her stories. Santa Cruz Noir, a title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.