It's hard not to get too excited about the latest enormous volume of the best of the noncommercial world of short stories, poetry, and essays. One could easily take it as a sign that the independent publishing community has finally broken free from the shackles of academia and is asserting its voice -- actually a whole range of voices that fiercely push themselves forward to be heard. There are a few big names, like Louise Erdrich, Louise GlÃœck, and Charles Baxter, but they mostly contribute thoughtful, interesting literary essays. The collection really sings, though, with the sound of rousing newcomers. Some authors have had little or no previous work published, like Bliss Broyard with her graceful story ""My Father, Dancing,"" and Charles D'Ambrosio with ""Jacinta,"" an evocation of quiet desperation in rural Oregon. Several entries are strikingly original in form and content, namely Eugene Stein's story of ultimate anarchism in ""The Triumph of the Prague Workers' Councils"" and George Williams's manic fantasy in ""The Road From Damascus."" Nonliterary essays offer eloquent views on such subjects as the power of giving messages in Brenda Miller's ""A Thousand Buddahs"" and on the death of great dogs in Vicki Hearne's ""Oyez Beaumont."" Many of the contributors bring with them the cultural heritage of recent immigration or displacement, most successfully in Marilyn Chin's long poem ""A Portrait of the Self as Nation, 1990 -- 1991"" and Josip Novakovich's story of survival in Yugoslavia in ""Honey in the Carcase."" African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos are also well represented, but there are no dominant themes, issues, or points of view, and there are surprisingly few duds in a collection this varied. Much has been written about the fall of prose in America, the result of an attention-span-impaired generation, of evil conglomerate book publishers, of stultifying university writing programs, but this latest volume of the Pushcart Prize offers ample evidence that there are many who are able and willing to pick up the fallen banner of the written word. A surprising, vital collection that should hearten all serious readers.