It was only last year that we created this website—our effort to progress alongside a rapidly changing industry and to create more space for the ever-growing talent of SU’s literary community. We never imagined that an online presence would hold this much significance in 2020. Though we are disappointed that we cannot launch this issue on the same night as our print issue, we hope that someday soon we can all celebrate together. After all, the health crisis has not limited the literary community; it has only made us stronger. When we look back at this era, we will remember that, in times of darkness and uncertainty, we turned to art.
Though this publication process has faced unprecedented hurdles, we feel so grateful to have been a part of it. We’d like to thank Glen Retief and Hasanthika Sirisena for their support and encouragement, Deon Robinson and Abigail Krautheim for their stunning design work and editorial contributions, and our reading boards and copyeditors for their devoted time and invaluable feedback. We’d especially like to thank Tomás Q. Morín for his magnificent Cunningham essay and for choosing the recipient of our Erik Kirkland Memorial Prize.
Most of all, we’d like to thank our contributors whose moving prose and stunning photography have given life to Essay’s second virtual edition. The pieces published in this issue are diverse, marked by a variety of styles, voices and themes. Nevertheless, each one is a symbol of reflection and resilience.
In her piece, “Looking Sixteen,” Nikki Borgel exposes the disquieting realities of workplace harassment, sexism and toxic masculinity. She writes, “I say it harsh. Say it to stand for all the other times I wanted to say it.” Borgel’s prose is sparse and cutting, allowing the quiet violence of her experiences to speak for itself. It’s a violence readers won’t be able to look away from. And Borgel would likely argue that they shouldn’t.
Meanwhile, in “Theory of Trapped Animals,” Deon Robinson struggles to forgive himself for a moment of inaction. Describing the city’s “saltwater silence,” he painfully recalls, “Imagine … over thirty spectators, and there wasn’t a single savior among us.” His story, brimming with tenderness and humility, challenges the innocence of bystanders in moments of diffused responsibility.
Meanwhile, photographer, Kaila Snyder, has set out to capture a more literal kind of haunting. Her photo collection, “Translucence,” explores Hummelstown, Pennsylvania’s Indian Echo Caverns—a site with a particularly dark history. Snyder’s photos are mesmerizing, marked by the same “astonishing beauty” and “ghostly wonder” she claims radiate from the caverns.
Amy Jarvis would likely agree: in darkness, there remains a great deal of beauty. Jarvis’s flash collection, “Per Aspera Ad Astra,” catapults readers into its own galaxy, creating constellations out of memories—from an alien MRI examining Jarvis’s “question-marked” body to fireworks coloring the sky at her hometown’s historical Fourth of July parade. Her collection radiates warmth, a deep yearning to cherish even the smallest of moments in an endless universe.
And perhaps it’s true that, right now, we’re all holding on to the smallest of moments. Nevertheless, we hope that the pieces in this issue can offer glints of clarity, solace and joy. We invite you to trust these writers, with your heart and your fears, if only for a short time. Today, we invite you to turn to art.
Hannah Phillips & Bri Murphy