Today, the newest member of our editorial team, Nonfiction Editor Susanna Forrest, shares a preview of the diverse kinds of nonfiction she loves. We’re hoping her insights will be helpful to readers looking for inspiration or writers interested in submitting their work to SAND. SAND is open for submissions of nonfiction as well as fiction, poetry, and visual art until 6 July.
Susanna Forrest is the author of two books of creative nonfiction, The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History (Atlantic Books, 2016) and If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession (Atlantic Books, 2012). The Economist called her most recent book “superb” and the award-winning novelist Meg Rosoff wrote of it: “From Xenophon to Hitler via Chinese polo and the battle of Waterloo, this extraordinary work demonstrates how much better world history looks with a horse in the foreground.” Indeed, Susanna’s own work is just as much about humans, and she appreciates excellent writing on many subjects, as you will see from her selections below.
Nonfiction is protean and that's why I love it — from good science writing to evocative history, mini-ethnographies, profiles, travel epics, striking memoirs, think pieces, and character studies. I'm interested in featuring essays that cover the full range of possibilities of nonfiction — as a greedy reader, I’d love to be spoiled for choice. Here are a few examples of some outstanding writing that grabs me.
‘The New Hooligans of Russia’ by Sam Borden for ESPN
Of course this heavily-reported piece is the result of finances we can't offer at SAND, but you might find some of the elements that make this such a great read in some of your own writing. Most writers have a piece that they couldn't find a home for, sometimes through no fault of its own. Borden takes us straight into the heart of the story, which darkens rapidly, and we follow him into a barely concealed subculture of football and violence.
‘Cumbrian Fell Pony’ by Sarah Hall for Granta
Nature writing with a touch of memoir, history and plenty of well-judged lyricism. I love horses and read a lot about them, but this felt fresh. Literary nature writing may be a UK publishing phenomenon, but every time I think I've burned out and can't read another book, I discover something like this Sarah Hall piece, or an Amy Liptrot (The Outrun) or Charles Foster (Being a Beast).
‘My Old Man and the Sea’ by Anna Fitzpatrick for Topic
Photos and questions come together in a profile that opens up a whole world.
‘When Texas Was at the Bottom of the Sea’ by Olivia Judson for Smithsonian
An effortless combination of science and travel that's easy to read without patronising readers or sparing complexities. Judson covers a tremendous amount of ground, both literally and figuratively.
‘When Desire Goes Dark’ by Charlotte Shane for Hazlitt
We live in a bumper era for personal essays, with think pieces arguing against "the personal essay industrial complex" or defending it. Just being on social media means that many float past my eyes on a daily basis, which makes it harder for them to stand out in my SAND submissions pile. I'm either looking for an essay recounting a truly extraordinary event or for phenomenally good and/or innovative writing. I loved this Charlotte Shane piece because although it's a familiar personal essay theme — depression — the writing is fine and clear and there's more depth here than just a detailed recounting of events.