Best of the Small Presses
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 The Pushcart Prize's 20th anniversary is a cause for celebration and concern. No devoted reader can criticize the Pushcart Prize's raison d'àtre: to recognize the best stories, poems, and essays published by small presses and literary magazines and bring them to a wider audience. This 20th collection contains much to delight, a spectral range of voices: lyrical, brutal, naive, devious. Debra Spark's ``Last Things'' is a shockingly, admirably honest account of her sister's early death from cancer. The homespun narrator of Marie Sheppard Williams's ``Wilma Bremer's Funeral'' is a quietly authentic creation. Poetry ranges from Diann Blakely Shoaf's dizzying ``Solo, New Orleans'' to an elegant canto selected from Robert Pinsky's new translation of Dante's Inferno. A few selections, like ``False Water Society'' by Ben Marcus, are utterly baffling. Such a rich collection should send all writers scurrying to their desks, thrilled with fresh energy. But will it prove worth it? The powers behind Pushcart sometimes feel like a private club; this year's winners are too often listed as nominators for other pieces in the same anthology. Literary lions like Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, and John Barth seem to have been included not for the merit of their curiously self-conscious pieces but to lend literary weight to the group. In his introduction, Henderson (Her Father: A Memoir, p. 1079, etc.) writes of Rick Moody's ``The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven'': ``Lee [Smith] and I picked Rick's novellathe longest piece ever to run hereafter Rick was excused from the room.'' Cozy, but discouraging to the ranks of the undiscovered. The Pushcart Prize, ideally, should both celebrate noncommercial literature and inspire those who will ensure its continued health in an increasingly bottom-line world. In its 20th year, it is more successful on the first count than the second.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-916366-99-5
Page count: 580pp
Publisher: Pushcart
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1995


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by Bill Henderson
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