Best American Essays, University Writing Programs, and their Literary Journals: A Work in Progress

Red FlowerCuriosity is the best part of an essayist’s job. This fall, I got curious about the relationship between Best American Essays, the journals represented, and the writing programs that house those journals. Thanks to Assay’s editorial assistant, Nick Nelson, we have more data than I expected–and it’s thought-provoking enough that we want to share it. We are presenting that information without commentary or opinion, but just as straight data. Make of it what you will. We didn’t intend this data for public consumption, only for our internal information, but we believe it’s interesting enough and important enough to share with the wider world, even at this stage. There are some errors here and there, but again, we did not intend this for an audience beyond our own staff. We also don’t pretend this is comprehensive or complete.

Nick’s process unfolded this way: he took the last five years of Best American Essays (excepting 2012, which I didn’t have on hand for him) and he collated all the journals represented in the Notables and the frequency of representation. Nick then took that information and investigated the university writing programs attached to the journals in the top 30 spots. In the interests of transparency, we are including here the raw Top 30 (which includes commercial journals not attached to writing programs, like The New Yorker), but we are also including the Top 30 with those commercial journals removed. We anticipate adding more years and more information in the future.

I am incredibly grateful to Nick for doing this work–thank you!


BAE University Data Best American Essays and What It Shares

BAE Journal Data

BAE University Data

 Assay Home Page


  1. Thanks so much. This is very helpful and well done. I would note that Fourth Genre is edited by Laura Julier and was founded in 1998. The info you have is, I believe, for Michigan State University Press, which is kind of our mothership but not us exactly.


  2. Yes, this is exactly the type of error we expected to have and we’ll fix them in our internal documents, but we wanted to release it as it was. But we are aware that it’s not all 100% accurate–but the numbers should be good.


  3. Thanks, Ned. And Karen! One more correction: Michigan State does not have an MFA program. Fourth Genre is associated with the Professional Writing Program in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, & American Cultures, and I’m the director of that program also. Zarena Aslami is not in our department or program. Thanks.


  4. Yep, this is the kind of error I expected to have. This is just the first compilation of data, which I expected to have some inaccuracies in just the areas you’re identifying. We just wanted to get the numbers out there. We’ll correct these mistakes when we go back to the data. But thanks for pointing it out!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s