Jill Sisson Quinn’s essay “Big Night,” originally published in Middlebury’s New England Review in spring 2015, was selected by guest editor Jonathan Franzen and series editor Robert Atwan for Best American Essays 2016. For these annual Best American anthologies, published by Houghton Mifflin, the editors read essays from hundreds of publications—from large-circulation magazines like the New Yorker and the Atlantic to the smallest of literary magazines—in search of what they deem the most vital of the genre. In 2016 they chose 23 essays in all. This is the third time in the past four years that NER has had an essay selected for the anthology.
Quinn’s essay is essentially about the author’s path toward adopting a child and her lifelong fascination with salamanders. She examines her desire to have a child alongside her desire to witness the spotted salamander’s annual nocturnal night of mating, also known as their Big Night.
“What originally drew us to this essay,” said NER editor Carolyn Kuebler, “was not just that its subject matter was intriguing and that its arguments and sentences were well constructed, but that it took two seemingly unrelated topics and put them together in a way that felt true and urgent. In other words, the conceit of the piece wasn’t just a literary one. Improbable as it may sound, the author was able to understand her own ‘child wish’ more deeply through the examination of the reproductive gamble of salamanders. And by telling her own story, she gives readers a chance to discover these intricate relationships too.”
As Jonathan Franzen says in his introduction to Best American Essays 2016, “Writing or reading an essay isn’t the only way to stop and ask yourself who you really are and what your life might mean, but it is one good way.”
Over its nearly four decades of publication, NER has also had numerous poems and stories selected for Best American Short Stories, Best American Poetry, and even Best American Mystery Stories. “Given the vast number of publications out there, it’s always an honor for us to have a piece chosen for the Best American anthologies,” said Kuebler. “We think all our pieces are worthy of inclusion, and those that aren’t selected are no less dear to us, but it’s heartening now and then to learn that another editor is as excited about our work as we are.”
Published by Middlebury College, New England Review is a nationally recognized literary journal that cultivates artistic excellence and innovation in contemporary writing and engages readers deeply in the literary arts through its quarterly publication, dynamic web presence, and quarterly public reading series. NER is available in print and digital formats for all devices.