Explorations in Nonfiction
Institutional electronic and print + electronic subscriptions are available through the Scholarly Publishing Collective.
- ISSN: 1522-3868
- eISSN: 1544-1733
- Frequency: Biannual
We invite you to experience Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, a journal devoted to publishing notable, innovative work in nonfiction. Given the genre’s flexibility and expansiveness, we welcome a variety of works ranging from personal essays and memoirs to literary journalism and personal criticism. The editors invite works that are lyrical, self-interrogative, meditative, and reflective, as well as expository, analytical, exploratory, or whimsical. In short, we encourage submissions across the full spectrum of the genre. The journal encourages a writer-to-reader conversation, one that explores the markers and boundaries of literary/creative nonfiction.
Patrick Madden and Joey Franklin
E. J. Levy
Ryan Van Meter
Editorial & Production Staff
Scott Russell Sanders
Michael Steinberg, Founding Editor
Published twice annually by Michigan State University Press, Fourth Genre is a literary journal that explores the boundaries of contemporary and creative nonfiction. We welcome personal essays, nature, environmental, and travel essays—as well lyrical, experimental, self-interrogative, meditative, reflective, humorous, or whimsical.
Two (2) issues published annually. Spring (#1) and Fall (#2)
General Submissions are accepted August 30-November 30 via Duosuma.
- Authors selected for publication paid with two (2) complimentary copies of the journal
Fourth Genre Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize submissions are accepted January 1-March 15 via Duosuma.
- Entry fee is $20 (U.S.) for each individual submission
- 8,000 word limit for general submissions; 6,000 word limit for Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize
- Multiple submissions not accepted from individual authors (non-contest submissions only)
- Simultaneous submissions require immediate notification to Fourth Genre if accepted elsewhere
- We read blind, so make sure your name or any other identifying information does not appear on the manuscript.
Fourth Genre Multimedia Essay Prize submissions are accepted through March 15 via Duosoma.
- A prize of $500 and publication on Fourth Genre’s website is given annually for a multimedia essay.
- Submit a video, audio, photo, graphic, or interactive essay with a $20 fee ($10 for students).
- All entries are considered for publication on our website.
IMAGES & DERIVATIVE MATERIALS
Electronic files accepted; all images must be minimum 300 dpi at planned publication size
- It is the author/researcher’s obligation and responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright and/or other use restrictions prior to submitting materials to MSU Press for publication
- Citations, permissions, and captions are required upon submission for all images, including those derived from the internet
- Use the Fourth Genre Permission Request Letter to obtain permission from image’s rightsholder
- MSU Press cannot publish such materials until written clearance is obtained
Queries welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Fourth Genre, visit fourthgenre.org.
Fourth Genre Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize
2022 Winners Announced!
We are thrilled to announce and give our congratulations to the winners of our 2022 Steinberg Memorial Essay Contest and Multimedia Essay Contest!
Steinberg Memorial Essay Contest: "The Rest is History" by Peggy Shinner
Multimedia Essay Contest: "Out-of-Body" by Madeline Curtis
About "The Rest is History," our Steinberg Memorial Essay judge, Mary Cappello, had this to say:
"The Rest is History" is a show-stopping essay, from its first paragraph to its last. Subjects intertwine, overlap and intersect while also maintaining their own crystalline distinctness and integrity. And what are these subjects? “Female sexuality conjoined with nuclear destruction,” the coincidence of the bikini and the atomic bomb. Capacious and unbelievable, tautly dramatic and unpredictable, the essay charts a series of displacements that the female body is made to cover and to bear. A study of the language used to justify destruction, “The Rest is History” couldn’t be more timely. It makes luminous the essay’s capacity to yoke the personal with the collective, subsequently, to re-invent modes of address while addressing us all."
About "Out-of-Body," our Multimedia Essay judge, Wayne Koestenbaum, had this to say:
"In delicate and textured drawings and text fragments, "Out-of-Body" beautifully captures the feelings of absence associated with depersonalization; whether or not we, the readers, have ourselves experienced the furthest reaches of out-of-body sensation, we have all, as readers of Emily Dickinson and Samuel Beckett and other travelers into the lands of absence, felt the chill of non-being descend upon us, and we can thus recognize (and in a sense revere) the phenomenon. "Out-of-Body," a text/image amalgam, renders these moods and departures as spooky and fabular; the images, like the cartoons of Roz Chast, give anomie and distress a sweetly off-kilter charm."
Along with these magnificent, winning essays, we wanted to honor the finalists of the contests as well.
2022 Steinberg Memorial Essay Contest Finalists:
"A Craft Essay on Trauma" by Jocelyn Winn
"Watching Clotho" by Melissa Lauer
"Garden Hunter" by Joanne Jacobson
"The Jim Croce Question" by Michael Hess
"Velocity" by Marie Turner
"On Being Frog and Toad" by Amanda Giracca
"How to Be the Mother of a Dead Girl" by Eileen Vorbach Collins
2022 Multimedia Essay Contest Finalists:
"What Can't be Explained" by Jamey Temple
"Chthonic" by Daniel Oliveri
- Reading period: January 1–March 15
- More information and portal for submitting entries during reading period can be found here.
- Reading fee: $20 (U.S.) for each individual submission (multiple submissions accepted)
- The author’s name or contact information should appear nowhere in the manuscript, including headers, footers, and title pages. Any names that appear in the manuscript that could be used to identify the author or the author’s affiliations should be given a pseudonym for the purposes of the contest, but will be corrected for publication.
- 6,000 word limit
- Current Michigan State University students, faculty, and staff are not eligible to enter
- Winner receives $1,000 prize
- Winner and runner-up (if applicable) announced at the end of May on the Fourth Genre website and the Fourth Genre facebook page
Fourth Genre Steinberg Memorial Essay Prize
Winners (tied for first place): "Fucked Fable" by Matthew Morris and "Cousin Marvin's Secret" by Jacob Appel
Runner-Up: "Future Perfect" by Jennifer Delahunty
Judge: Xu Xi
Comments from the judge:
“Cousin Marvin’s Secret”: An eccentric relative who embodies a real-life mystery is almost irresistibly the stuff of fiction. Cousin Marvin is no exception in this perfectly narrated and very funny essay. But the writer is more than merely clever in her use of language, because she is also a keen observer of human foibles, quirks and desires. In attempting to solve her relative’s mysterious “disinheritance” after his death, she unpacks the larger issue of what it means to conform, to marry, to be a part of a family, to love, honor and yes, even obey. The writer ultimately turns the focus back on herself, and the essay demonstrates that life is indeed stranger than fiction and, more importantly, that not all life needs to be a fully resolved story when we, to paraphrase Montaigne, are the subject of our books.
“Fucked Fable”: This truly original piece of writing, this essay —be it lyric, collage, list, meditation — is a whispered cri de coeur. In a voice that is unfailingly polite while also unabashedly brutal, the writer zooms in and out on his bi-racial self, detailing the experiences that confound existential self-knowledge. The assemblage of quotes by Black and bi-racial writers are repeated, interrupted, edited, re-presented, in between the explosive insults heard and comments recalled that echo throughout. The danger is cacophony, but the result is symphonic, reminiscent of Duke Ellington’s “Black, Brown & Beige.” A crisp confession, taut, dramatic and honest; we look forward to the as yet “unheard melodies” to follow.
"Future Perfect": A well-crafted inquiry into narrative, time, memory and desire that takes the reader seamlessly through this examined life. And she has lived — through literature, language, lovers, travel and life abroad, motherhood, elder care, a career in college admissions. A masterful compression of perfectly selected moments of a life. The clock ticks but is backgrounded into silence by the writer’s observations on narrative, time, memory and desire.
About the judge: Xu Xi 許素細 is the author of fourteen books of fiction & essays, most recently This Fish is Fowl: Essays of Being (Nebraska, American Lives series 2019), Insignificance: Hong Kong Stories (Signal 8 Press), a memoir Dear Hong Kong: An Elegy For A City (Penguin, July 2017) and her fifth novel, That Man In Our Lives (C & R Press, 2016). She has been a finalist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, an O. Henry short story prize winner and a New York State Arts Foundation fiction fellow. She is also faculty co-director of the international MFA program in creative nonfiction and literary translation at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and co-founder of Authors at Large.
Fourth Genre Multimedia Essay Prize
Winner: "Drawing at the Mall," by Brian Kearney
Multimedia Prize Judge: Kristen Radke
Comments from the judge: “Drawing The Mall” is a slightly-deranged, entirely-beautiful love letter to an American institution that ‘has seasons but it has no weather.’ I’ll genuinely never look at a food court the same way again. I fell in love, too.”
About the judge: Kristen Radtke is the author of the graphic nonfiction book Imagine Wanting Only This (2017), and the forthcoming books Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness (July 2021), for which she received a 2019 Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, and Terrible Men, a graphic novel, all from Pantheon. She is the art director and deputy publisher of The Believer magazine. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, The Atlantic, The Guardian, GQ, Vogue, NPR, and many other places. Find her on Twitter @kristenradtke and on Instagram @keradtke.
View "Drawing at the Mall" here!
2020 WINNERS (16th annual prize)
We’re happy to announce the winners and finalists of the 2020 Fourth Genre Michael Steinberg Memorial Essay Contest. This year’s contest judge, Laura Julier, has selected Sean Enfield’s “The Revolution Will Be Revised” as the contest winner and Jacquelyn Thomas’s “Mystery Readers” as the runner up.
About Enfield’s essay, Julier wrote,
I absolutely love the way this essay engages the writer in narrating, reflecting upon, and revising his experience so complexly interwoven, in so many layers. It would be easy to think of it as an essay rooted in a particular historical moment, given its timeliness, but in fact this is a perspective that feels important beyond the present. The author raises questions about how to engage, how to be present, how to be, in a cultural context that is so mediated by (among other things) media and screens. Above all, the essay raises questions about how to create and develop an identity outside of the multiple narratives that tug at us, another voice in a conversation inhabited by the likes of Didion and Baldwin. It is an accomplishment worth circulating widely.
Julier also praised Thomas’s “Mystery Readers,” writing,
There’s a kind of magic to this essay in the lush language, the impressionist strokes of tone, the word play, and the way strands of narrative are braided in a story about story, couched in the love between a woman and her young granddaughter, about books and youth and aging, marked by unexpected turns and moments. It bears a slow reading and rereading, the sign to me of an exquisite piece of writing.
In addition to Enfield and Thomas’s excellent essays, there are several finalists we’d like to honor:
- “How to Live Thin: 42 Tips” by Kristin Barendsen
- “How to Preserve a Body” by Lauren Cross
- “Notes on Inheriting Deafness” by Shannon Fandler
- “Walk, Velvet Gentleman” by Sabrina Fountain
- “Replika” by Laurie Frankel
- “Marginalia” by Negesti Kaudo
- “At 79, My Mother Decides to Plant Trees” by Debra Marquart
- “Refusing Silence” by Catherine Mauk
- “Bad News 101” by Meg Senuta
- “When it’s Time to Grow Antlers” by Allie Spikes
- “Dog As…” by Cora Waring
- “Changing Your Mind” by Jim Zervanos
Congratulations again to our winners and finalists. The winner and runner up from the 2020 Steinberg Contest will be published in our Spring 2021 issue, due out next March. It’s an issue you won’t want to miss.
2019 WINNER (15th Annual Prize)
The 2019 Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize winner is “When to Tell Someone You Went to Prison” by Marco Verdoni!
Judge Brenda Miller shares these comments about the winning essay:
In “When to Tell Someone You Went to Prison,” we become privy to a life formed behind bars that bears little resemblance to our preconceptions. The author elegantly describes his experience from the perspective of release, his feeling that “I’m somehow always behind and that I’ll never catch up.” His story is important and illuminating.
“When to Tell Someone You Went to Prison” will appear in Fourth Genre 22.1 (Spring 2020), which will be available at AWP.
2018 WINNER (14th Annual Prize)
The 2018 Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize winner is Erica Berry for her essay “Like A Shipwreck” and the runner up is Annie Sheppard for her piece “We at Old Birds Welcome Messages from God, even if Unverifiable.”
Judge Robin Hemley shares his comments about the two winning essays:
Winner: Erica Berry, “Like A Shipwreck”
This is a gorgeous braided essay on how we manage to preserve our selves and our histories in the face of global catastrophe. Set against the backdrop of World War Two and artist Marcel Duchamp carrying the history of his artmaking in miniature with him while on the run, the essay stitches together other elements and examples of catastrophe and preservation, from his/her own grandparents packing up their most precious belongings in advance of a wildfire encroaching upon their Montana home, to the self-conscious cataloging of artists and writers. What I love about this essay is how confidently and subtly it builds a central metaphor that is finally about hope and resilience in the face of despair and loss. Likewise, the writer ends the essay on the perfect note, an accomplishment in itself.
Runner up: Annie Sheppard, “We at Old Birds Welcome Messages from God, even if Unverifiable”
What begins as a whimsical exploration of lake monsters and other unverifiable creatures and treasures evolves into taxonomies of lost creatures that might or might not be extinct, starting with the “Lord God Bird” and ending with the narrator’s own father, declining in health as he inches towards death. I love this kind of essay, one that starts out seemingly lighthearted and then twists the knife when the reader least expects it. Are birds messengers of God? If so, what is the message? Are the old birds in our families, those who would refuse to acknowledge their own transgressions, and who haven’t in a sense been sighted in years, able to fly off finally beyond care and atonement? The inventive tone and language, the attitude of the essay, belie the serious questions it asks. Who’s watching us, if anyone? What are our responsibilities to ourselves and others when accountability seems elusive? Can what seemed extinct be located again, not gone forever but in deep hiding?
“Like A Shipwreck” will be published in Fourth Genre 21.1 (February 2019).
2017 WINNER (13th Annual Prize)
We’re very happy to announce Sue Burton’s “Box Set” as winner of the 2017 contest. Here’s what Faith Adiele (this year’s judge) had to say in choosing Burton’s essay:
“’Box Set’ is a beautiful argument for the lyric essay, demonstrating how the form marries poetry and inquiry to tackle important subject matter, both historic and contemporary, personal and political. The typography and title offer sly commentary on the institutional control exerted over women’s bodies recurring throughout history, while the formal patterning performs how the narrator’s life and work is haunted by unanswered family questions. The essay achieves orature, a masterfully woven tapestry of voices culled from letters, newspaper clippings, whispered rumor, family questions, personal testimony, legal documents, musings.”
“Box Set” will appear in Issue 20.1 in February, available at AWP in Tampa in April.
2016 WINNER (12th Annual Prize)
We are excited to announce that Molly Gallentines’s essay, “Powder House,” has been chosen as the winner of the 12th annual Fourth Genre Steinberg Essay Prize! Judge Ned Stuckey-French shares his thoughts on the winning essay:
“Powder House” is an important, moving, fascinating, and beautiful essay. It’s also wonderfully odd, weaving together as it does meditations about St. Mark’s Place, the War on Terror, cookbooks, nineteenth century glue baron Peter Cooper, LBJ’s “Daisy” ad from the 1964 election, W. H. Auden, and the origins of Jell-O, among other things. There is a weird and comic narrative in which the author and her friend Brandon film a movie of themselves trying to make an orange gelatin mold using a Revolutionary Era recipe that calls for hand-ground hartshorn and isinglass, a collagen derived from the dried swim bladders of fish. As it happens, they are grating their deer antlers in the kitchen of Brandon’s apartment at 77 St. Mark’s Place, the same apartment building where the exiled Leon Trotsky wrote for the Russian revolutionary paper Novy Mir and Auden lived for the last 20 years of his life. But “Powder House” is a narrative essay mainly in the Montaignean sense. We don’t care so much about whether the gelatin will set properly. What pulls us along is the story of a mind thinking. Where will the next digression take us? What new connection will this distinctly American essay make? What more will we learn about history, place, memory, beauty, and art? A lot more as it turns out. I admire “Powder House” and its author very much.
“Powder House” will be published in Fourth Genre 19.1 (February 2017).
This year’s runner-up is Wilfredo Pascual with the essay “Terminus.”
2015 WINNER (11th Annual Prize)
Winner: Kaitlyn Teer, “Ossification”
Judge: Kate Carroll de Gutes
The narrative in “Ossification” really held me—skeletal and familial without being trite, it’s not just another grandparent narrative. I was surprised, even though the title should have alerted me, when I realized the section headers were actually the spinal markers, and I immediately read the entire piece again, mapping each section’s content to the bony prominences of their headers. I also liked—and I know Judith would have, too—the writer’s use of digression, from science catalogs to black ice to the continuity of standing at the sink doing dishes. Judith believed strongly in digression. Here’s a bit of her take on it in a piece about lyric essay she wrote for Seneca Review:
“Too bad,” said my wonderful professor, “that you have so many good ideas, and no vehicle with which to express them.” Well, I had a vehicle, but it just wasn’t the one he recognized—the language of the scholarly article. It just didn’t dot the i’s or cross the t’s or proceed logically on its way to its point. It circled and spiraled; it doubled back; it digressed and prodded; it spoke in tongues. And yet I knew I knew what I knew—knew it in ways that, if I thought to remember, sounded a bit like my father’s way of knowing something that he then had to prove. But since there is no such thing as “proof” in literature, it seemed to me that all I had to do was find a way to show the direction of my thoughts. Demonstrate them. Point the reader toward my inconclusive conclusions.
“Ossification” does this beautifully. It spirals like a spine with scoliosis, twisting ’round until the reader has a full picture, but no answers to the mystery of the body, the heart, and the families that hold both.
“Ossification” appears in Fourth Genre 18.1 (February 2016).
2014 WINNERS (10th Annual Prize)
Judge: Robert Root
Winner: David Zoby, “My Brother Arrives in Kansas”
Runner-up: Beth Richards, “Fight”
Both appear in issue 17.1, in print February 2015.
About Zoby’s essay, Root wrote:
This segmented narrative is well developed throughout. It has a thorough sense of place, a clear contrast between the narrator and his brother, and a complicated portrait of their relationship. The narrator’s persona is marked by reaction to the brother’s behavior, and by the end of the essay the reader has insight into the narrator in a way that exposes his shortcomings. This is all deftly handled and, though readers in Kansas may not agree with the narrator’s view of it, they will recognize how self-revealing he has been even as he wrestles with his sense of himself in light of his brother’s personality.
About Richards’ essay, Root wrote:
Working with a central metaphor tying each segment to a phrase or to jargon used in reference to boxing, the narrator gives us a complex sense of persona, balanced and insightful. There are flashes of wry humor, irony, and self-knowledge and other characters are distinct and well differentiated. There are considerable losses in this essay, considerable conflicts, but the essay eschews mournfulness and the prose makes each scene come alive. Narrative and reflective elements are well balanced and the progression of the scenes has a cumulative impact.
2013 WINNERS (9th Annual Prize)
Judge: Scott Russell Sanders
Winner: Patricia Park, “How to Run a Supermarket”
What begins as a wry how-to manual on running a supermarket opens into a study in immigrant-family dynamics, a sketch of social change in a Brooklyn neighborhood, a lament about the poor fit between formal education and retail work, and a coming-of-age story, all deftly braided together by a thoroughly engaging narrator….The second-person narrative voice, which can easily become stilted, is handled here with wit and skill, obliquely revealing a transformative personal history while telling us, with an insider’s precise knowledge, what it’s like to serve the picky, penny-pinching, by turns infuriating and mystifying public.
Patricia Park’s essay appeared in issue 16.1 in February 2014.
2013 WINNERS (8th Annual Prize)
Judge: Marcia Aldrich
Winner: Anne Penfield, “The Half-Life”
Runner-up: Elena Passarello, “Harpy”
Award-winning essayist and former Fourth Genre editor Marcia Aldrich, judge for the 2012 contest, wrote about “The Half-Life”:
This is a quiet essay, written with restraint and a steady focus, and its emotional impact accumulates and is devastating by the end. The essay is rooted in the narration of the day, the third day that her husband has gone missing, by taking us through all the tasks she alone must attend to in his absence—getting children fed and off to school, managing the range of animals on the small farm, negotiating the mess she finds herself in. Her husband has survived his military deployment and returned home. However, his battle with alcoholism has led him to go missing in his civilian life. The writer slips in the emotional anguish as cleanly and quietly as an expert diver splits the water on entry. Anguish ferments under the surface of the essay, doing its steady damage up to the end. Sometimes these quiet assassin essays get overlooked among the flashier writing. This one stayed with me for days and drew me back to it.
Marya Passarello, “Strip”
Robyn Richey Piz, “Altered State”
Kathryn Winograd, “Of Wind and Fire”
Elizabeth Mosier, “The Pit and the Page”
Neal Snidow, “Meter to the Black
Daisy Hernández, “Stories She Tells Us”
Emily Carr, “Membership (as the Commercial Says) Has its Privileges”
Lee Reilly, “The Relative Nature of Things”
The winning essay and the runner-up appear in Fourth Genre 15.1, spring 2013.
2012 WINNERS (7th Annual Prize)
Judge: Ryan Van Meter
Winner: Jennifer De Leon, “The White Space”
Runner-up: Damian Van Denburgh, “The Wish to Be a Red Indian”
Jacob Steele, “The Uniform”
Jacob Appel, “Livery”
Eileen Reynolds, “My Pronoun Problem—And Ya’ll’s”
Kathryn Winograd, “Heresies of the Holy”
Nina Yun, “Kimchee”
Matthew Frank, “Silk, Allergies, Sisters, and Incompleteness”
Dan Roche, “The Expressionists: The Intimate Craft of Making Eyes”
Greta Schuler, “Empty Boxes”
2011 WINNERS (6th Annual Prize)
Judge: Michael Steinberg
Winner: Sandell Morse, “Circling My Father”
Finalist: Andrew Hood, “Genesis”
Lucas Mann, “The Cockroach and the Essayist”
Jessica Wilbanks, “The Father of Disorder”
Benjamin Busch, “Houses Without Cellars”
Marsha McGregor, “Human, Swimming”
Sarah Gorham, “The Shape of Fear”
Felicia Rose Chavez, “Between Shock and Knife”
Priscilla Kinter, “Good Idea #3: peanut butter”
Annie Nilsson, “Ghost Story”
Anthony D’Aries, “The Language of Men”
2010 WINNERS (5th Annual Prize)
Judge: Jocelyn Bartkevicious
Winner: Megan Nix, “Swim, Memory”
Finalist: Josh MacIvor-Anderson, “How I Learned The Gospel By Heart And Stopped Saying Damn”
Paula Brancato, “Red Hot Broken Girl”
Judy Copeland, “Louisville, 1953″
Emily Hipchen, “Solving for P”
Irene Keliher, “Putting Girls on the Map”
Daisy Levy, “Middle Ground”
Kim Liao, “Bodies in Motion”
Jeremy Lloyd, “End of the Road”
Daniel Roche, “Emptying Gary’s Garage”
2009 WINNERS (4th Annual Prize)
Winner: Kathryn Wilder, “The Last Cows”
Finalist: Sara Lippmann, “The Dying Tradition”
Charlotte E. Sullivan, “This is My Body”
Laura Newton, “Nothing Like We Planned”
Sonya Huber, “Homage to a Bridge”
2008 WINNERS (3rd Annual Prize)
Winner: Nedra Rogers, “Mammalian”
Runner-Up: Casey Flemin,”Take Me with You”
Jennifer Henderson, “The Furniture of Memory”
Kate Ellis, “Snakeblood”
Kristen Cosby, “Sulia”
Emily Lupita Plum, “Her Mexico Blurs”
Vina Kay, “River of Names”
Jane Satterfield, “Looking for Some Action”
Arthur Saltzman, “Afraid So”
Vanessa Griffin, “Black Raspberry Meditation”
Jo Scott-Coe, “The Recesses of High School”
2007 WINNERS (2nd Annual Prize)
Winner: Beth Richards, “The Fishing Story”
Runner-Up: Elizabeth Caroline Dodd, “The Scribe in the Woods”
2006 WINNERS (1st Annual Prize)
Winner: Melani Martinez,”The Molino
Runner-Up: Mira Bartó, “Gula, Gula–Listen, Listen: Memory and the Map of Childhood”