In April, 2005, a contest was announced. People ages 20 to 29 were invited to submit non-fiction essays on any subject to Matt (used to love C&C Music Factory!) and Jillian (went to three NKOTB shows!), two twentysomething editorial assistants at Random House. The blue-ribbon essay would earn the author a quick $20,000, and it, along the running-up essays would be included in an anthology published by Random House.
The resulting collection, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers will be released later this month. The press release, which came to Word Up with an advanced copy of the book, references Skeletor, slap bracelets, and POGS, as well as the musical predilections of the two editors. This is what we consumed! This is who we are! But it goes without saying that we’re self-aware enough to know we amount to more than our iPod playlists and our choice in sneakers!!!
It didn’t bode well, and it didn’t get me particularly amped up to see what my contemporaries are up to. Irony, of course, isn’t dead. But for those of us born between ’77 and ’86, irony bred with cynicism and the offspring was snark. And from the Twentysomething release, I figured that’s what the collection would be. An anthology of blog posts, from ours, a generation of snark.
Fortunately, the essays aren’t all in-jokes and snide appraisals. In fact, for the most part, the work is earnest, honest, and well-written. Jennifer Glaser writes about her sex life with her dying boyfriend in “Sex and the Sickbed.” in “Live Nude Girl,” Kathleen Rooney (the one author representing Massachusetts in the anthology), tells about her career as a nude artists’ model. The piece begins: “I am twenty-five years old, five foot eight, 110 pounds, with huge dark eyes and long dark hair, and I look totally fucking amazing naked.” In “Rock My Network,” Theodora Stites falls back on the you-are-who’s-in-your-network idea, documenting her electronic social climbing through MySpace, Friendster, Second Life, and Dodgeball. “I honestly don’t know why anyone wants to socialize in person anymore,” she writes. “It’s so difficult to concentrate on talking to just one person at a time.” It feels shallow in comparison to the rest.
The first-place winner hasn’t been announced, but if we had to bet, we’d go with Kyle Minor’s outstanding, engrossing essay called “You Shall Go out with Joy and Be Led Forth with Peace” which deals with brutality, hopelessness, and the non-existence of miracles. It’s the opening chapter of a memoir he’s working on, and Minor also edits a lit journal called The Frost Proof Review, and placed second in the 2004 Atlantic Monthly student fiction contest. We’ll let you know if he takes first place in this contest when we find out. The collection is worth getting for his essay alone, but taken as a whole, it’s a propitious look at writers coming of age right now, and it's a pleasant surprise.