The Pushcart Prize exists because of the spirit of our little tribe of word nuts. We know what we write, edit or read will often have little effect on what is happening to our planet, our species, or other animals that share our round neighborhood.
But we persist. We endure even as we battle yet another pandemic – a viral one – on top of the continuing pandemics of global climate change, persistent nationalism, and fraudulent, power crazed politicians.
Bill Henderson, Introduction
The first thing I noticed: Pushcart’s Intro has shrunk down to under two pages.
The next thing I saw was that four stories were overlaps with BASS 2020. For a couple of years now, there haven’t been any duplicates, though there were usually one or two in the past, and three in 2016. Four is a high-water mark.
Even more interestingly, the lead-off story – which Henderson has acknowledged in the past is carefully chosen to set a tone for the volume, a tone that will change as the pages turn but nonetheless reflects an overall sense of the rest of the work – is a BASS story about a woman terrified of disasters, from earthquakes to nuclear missile attacks, while she composes the electronic music that is her life’s work. It’s a story that ends with the sentence: “I was wondering if there was any place in this city, in this world, where we’d be safe.”
That certainly was how 2020 felt. And, as so many are looking forward with relief to the end of this year, I wonder why we think 2021 is going to be any better.
But I turned the page, and, because I happened to have time, read the second story in the volume. It’s a story that’s also full of personal disaster, that mires down into despair, but ends on a beautiful note of hope to the tune of Steve Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” I started to cry.
Then I read it again and thought, this isn’t hope, it’s delusion.
That’s my mindset, going into this volume. I so want to hope, but I feel so cynical and jaded. C’mon, Karen. Higher Ground. Act As If. Raise up your sword and shield. Just read; let the reaction take care of itself.
I’m going to stick with last year’s approach of blogging all the fiction and nonfiction, but only blogging the poetry that speaks to me. Last year, that was one poem. Thing is, I’ve discovered things speak to me if I listen, and I listen better when I search for something to write about them. So I suspect I could work harder at poetry, and would find more. But at a time when getting out of bed and greeting the day is hard work, I’m not going to commit to that.
I see a count on the back cover: “64 stories, poems, essays, and memoirs.” The count from each of the last four years has been 71 or 72. It seems to me there’s far less nonfiction this year, only nine pieces. Makes sense; it was, after all, a bad year for non-fiction, in the most frightening sense. And more fiction, twenty-three stories; that’s within normal limits, but on the high-normal side. Yes, I’m reading the table of contents as if it’s a blood test. Keep in mind, blood tests are often wrong. But at a glance, this shows the effects of 2020: more fiction, less truth. And less overall.
Don’t think I’m complaining. Managing to put a book together at all gets a round of applause. I keep wondering, nervously, if Pushcart or I will cease first. And it isn’t me I’m worried about.
So dear writer, dear editor, dear reader thank you. You have made a difference in these forty-five years. As the energy of these stories, essays, memoirs and poems indicates, we will all survive, indeed we will triumph because of our empathy, our joy and our sense of the sacred.
Bill Henderson, Introduction
Let’s see what’s in there.