Listicle: Resources for Teaching Jo Ann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter”

I visited several creative writing courses last week, and Jo Ann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter” was mentioned several times.

  • Find the original essay, published in The New Yorker, here.

Here are some resources for teaching and reading this essay:

  • Find Lynn Kilpatrick’s piece for Assay’s “In the Classroom” series, here.
  • Sarah M. Wells’ article, “The Memoir Inside the Essay Collection: Jo Ann Beard’s Boys of My Youth” (on the entire book), here.
  • Find Ned Stuckey-French’s commentary on the author, the essay’s form and context, including additional reading resources, here.
  • Find Jill Christman’s reflections in Essay Daily, including classroom exercises, here

If you have other resources, please let me know and I’ll add them to this page.

Thank you!


Martin Luther King Day 2017 — Online Teaching Resources


In English Composition courses, I usually assign Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I’ve heard from students that they really appreciate having that reading included. My students also respond very strongly to “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass.

It’s possible to listen to MLK read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which is especially useful in an online-learning environment. Stanford University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute has other excellent resources and curriculum suggestions.

Ned Stuckey-French provides fantastic analysis and context of Martin Luther King’s “Letter” here.

Thank you to Nancy Peck for suggesting the inclusion of original source documents. You can access MLK’s documents through

For contemporary and current resources, this NPR report is a useful start: “Ferguson in the Classroom: How One College Took Up Race and Policing This Semester.” The November 2015 NPR report discusses this NYU class developed by Professor Frank Leon Roberts. You can find Roberts’s #blacklivesmatter syllabus and other resources here.

In additition, here is a link to “13 Significant Books on Civil Rights for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”

For creative writing courses, and departments, it’s essential to consider Claudia Rankine’s keynote address at AWP/LA (2016). Rankine adapted that address into an essay for The Writer’s Chronicle, found here. Rankine’s masterpiece Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf) should be considered essential reading.

Please also consult the Syllabus on Black Feminism from Melissa Harris-Perry, here.

Here at Assay, you will find our resources and pedagogy articles useful. Here are a few suggestions:

On James Baldwin:

On Civil Rights:

On Empathy:

If you have other classroom resources that you wish to share, I’ll add them to this post as I receive them. Many thanks!

CFP: The Nonfiction of Social Justice

imageWriters: we have work to do.

This week in the wake of our election’s results, the Assay staff decided that while we would still like to have a focus on Best American Essays in our spring issue (to continue our celebration of BAE’s 30th anniversary), we would like to fill our pages with the nonfiction of social justice. We’re looking for full scholarly articles, we’re looking for informal analysis, we’re looking for pedagogy of all sorts, the incredible variety of forms that Assay likes best. We’re looking for the voices we need now, more than ever.

Who are the writers of color we need to read (and teach), now more than ever?

The LGBTQ writers we need, now more than ever?

The environmental writers, as we struggle against the future incarnations of the EPA? Who are the other voices about to be marginalized even further?

What are the particular texts, the individual essays, the full-length books? What lesson plans have you developed? Perhaps an explication of a nonfiction assignment? What did you read with your students this week when you tossed out your original plan?

Assay’s spring issue comes out in March, a few weeks after AWP in Washington, DC, which is a few weeks after Inauguration Day. In the face of feeling helpless and powerless, putting our words into the world to support each other is our best way of moving forward.

Our deadline is January 1, though we are actively reading now. You will find our submission guidelines here.

Please share this call widely with your colleagues and students.

Writers: We have work to do.


Assay’s “In the Classroom” Series Returns!

Our “In the Classroom” series is back! This upcoming academic year, we’ll continue to publish “Favorite Essays to Teach” and “Writers to Read.” While our focus is nonfiction, we’d love to hear about interdisciplinary approaches to writing. Or perhaps you’re primarily a poet and poetry teacher/writer, but you have a favorite essay you read and teach. We’d love to read about it.

Here are our guidelines for “In the Classroom” submissions:


You can access all Assay’s submission guidelines here.

As you continue to consider your own submissions to the main journal and to the “In the Classroom” series, please think about students who might have thoughtful pieces or imageresponse papers — and encourage them to submit. At Assay, we are committed to supporting the work of undergraduate, graduate, and emerging writers.

We’re here to support your teaching & writing. To that end, we maintain our syllabi bank. If you have a recent course syllabi that you’d like to contribute to the syllabi bank, please do! We’re happy to hear that this is a valued resource. If there are additional ways we can support your teaching, please let us know.

Here’s the link to our most recent journal release — Assay 3.1. Be sure to read Karen Babine’s and Robert Atwan’s conversation about Best American Essays. We’re grateful for Mr. Atwan’s contributions to the essay and his generous responses to Karen’s interview questions.


Finally, we’re so proud to announce our first “Notable” essay listing in Best American Essays 2016. Huge congratulations to Ned Stuckey-French for “Our Queer Little Hybrid Thing.” I frequently use this essay in my courses; I hope you will, too.

Thanks to all of you who have sent “In the Classroom” submissions already. Please keep them coming. And remember: we’re always considering work for our main journal, particularly work this year on the Best American Essays series.

With gratitude,



Renee DAoustManaging Editor Renée E. D’Aoust’s essay collection Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press) was a Foreword Reviews “Book of the Year” finalist.

Assay’s Academic Year 2015-2016 Annual Report


We’ve had a great academic year here at Assay. Thank you, all, for your contributions, for reading the journal, and for your support.

hipstamaticphoto-479148500.856242Next year, we’re looking forward to a journal focus on Best American Essays. A few of our questions: How do we conceive of BAE as the standard for our genre? How have the editors and/or contributors influenced the field? What pedagogical considerations do we have when we use BAE in the classroom? Essay Daily ran a fascinating series on BAE this past winter; if you have not seen those pieces, it’s well worth your time. Please find Assay’s call for BAE-focused submissions here. We continue to consider all submissions, and you can find our regular submission guidelines here. As always, if you have questions, send us an email. We’ll continue reading over the summer.

This past year, our main journal published a fall and spring issue: Assay 2.1 and Assay 2.2. We also published a Special Conference Issue featuring panel talks from NonfictioNOW, AWP, and ASLE.

During the NonfictioNOW (#NFNOW15) conference last fall, we published ongoing conference reports. We also published conference reports from the 2016 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference (#cnfwc16). Many thanks for these contributions, which make it possible for those unable to attend to learn, too. When you attend a conference, please consider writing up a panel / reading / workshop report for our “In the Classroom” series.

Our ongoing “In the Classroom” series continues to publish “Favorite Essays to Teach” and “Writers to Read.” This past year we were also super pleased to feature student travel-writer Lauren Wilson’s contributions.

As you continue to consider your own submissions to the main journal and to the “In the Classroom” series, please think about students who might have thoughtful pieces or response papers — and encourage them to submit. At Assay, we are committed to supporting the work of undergraduate, graduate, and emerging writers.

We’re here to support your teaching & writing. To that end, we maintain our syllabi bank. If you have a recent course syllabi that you’d like to contribute to the syllabi bank, please do! We’re happy to hear that this is a valued resource. If there are additional ways we can support your teaching, please let us know.

On a more personal note, this was my first year as Managing Editor at Assay. I’m thrilled to be part of our team, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to think more deeply about the pedagogical aspects of our field and to explore how we craft nonfiction. Thank you to our Board of Directors for their insights and support. Thank you to our readers and contributors for their enthusiasm and support. And a very special thank you to Editor Karen Babine for inviting me to join Assay.



We’re looking forward to next year! Assay’s fall issue will release September 1st. Our “In the Classroom” series will continue on October 3, 2016.

Here’s to a great summer of reading and writing. I’m off to cuddle my Tube of Fur.

With gratitude,



Topic – Resource List: Diversity / Difference / Power in the Writing Classroom

blue flowerIn the Creative Writing Pedagogy group, which is on Facebook, Rebecca Makkal asked the following question: “I’m looking for great essays (preferably online, assignable to graduate students) about diversity/difference/power in the writing classroom. Ideas?”

Many thanks to the following people who posted links to the following pieces in the discussion thread: Karen Babine, Don Hosek, Anna Leahy, Bich Minh Nguyen, DeMisty Philosopiae, James Ryan, Jennifer Solheim, and Ned Stuckey-French.

If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment, and I’ll add the link to the list.

— Here is a broad, recent look at many interwoven issues:

— “Workshop is Not For You, by Jeremiah Chamberlin: The Proper Care and Feeding of Writers”. Originally published at Glimmer Train, it is no longer available at the University of Oregon blog link… if you find a link to this piece, please let us know.

— The book Power and Identity in the Creative Writing Classroom, edited by Anna Leahy. Two chapters deal with grading, plus other topics related to power.

— Bernice M. Olivas: “Politics of Identity in the Essay Tradition,” published in Assay 2.1. See more here.

— “MFA vs. POC” by Junot Diaz. Available at The New Yorker here.

— Matthew Salesses has great recent work about this subject: “‘The Reader’ vs. POC”

Pleiades has an excellent four part series on rethinking the workshop. Here is part one: “Pure Craft is a Lie” Here’s the fourth in the series (you can also access the other posts through this link): Who’s at the Center of Workshop and Who Should Be?

— “Racial and Ethnic Justice in the Creative Writing Course by Joy Castro” can be found here:

— Vida’s “Report from the Field: Racial Invisibility and Erasure in the Writing Workshop” can be found here:

— Find excellent resources at the Journal of Creative Writing Studies, including David Mura’s “White Writing Teachers (or David Foster Wallace vs. James Baldwin)” and Tonya Hegamin‘s “Diversity and Inclusion: A Manifesto and Interview.” Both address issues of difference, and Mura’s piece speaks directly about what is required for white writing teachers to appropriately evaluate work by students of color.


Lauren Wilson: Writer’s Block While Traveling Abroad


It has taken me eight months, but I have come to the conclusion that there are three types of writer’s block when studying/spending significant amounts of time abroad. These three types come in stages, and even my non-writer roommates agreed that they went through these stages as well when it came to writing their own blogs to keep family and friends updated. I don’t think everyone experiences these, but I know at least a few people who share the same struggle, so I’m going to break them down and try to figure out how to get over them.


Street musicians at the Plaza Navona, Rome, Italy

The first stage is “I’m not writing because I am so overwhelmed by all of the new and exciting things around me” type of writer’s block. This stage can actually happen multiple times while abroad. It can happen when you first get to the place where you will be leaving for the next couple of months (in my case, it happened in both India and Ireland), but it can also happen every time you leave that place for a little while and go somewhere new (for me, it happened again in England, Austria, Hungary, Scotland, Greece, Italy, and Spain). It happens when there is so much going on and so much to see that you don’t want to miss anything because you decided to sit down and write about it. It happens when you tell yourself, “I’ll just write about it later.” Then that later turns into three weeks and you suddenly realize you forgot the name of the person you met at the Hungarian baths in Budapest, which is unfortunate since they’re the entire point of the essay you’re trying to write.


The Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy

There are two ways to combat this stage of writer’s block, I believe. The first is to just make yourself sit down and write down a few quick notes—nothing too in-depth, but enough to jog your memory when the time comes. The second way is to occasionally pull out your smart phone (because we all know you have one) and type a few notes into that about what you’re experiencing while you experience it. I carry a paper notebook with me all the time, but sometimes I prefer to use my phone for little blurbs because it is not as obtrusive and obvious in some situations as taking out my notebook. For example, in a street market it’s a lot easier for me to type a quick line into my phone than it is to stop and use my notebook. If someone at a street market said something that stood out to you, jot it down and expand upon it later. Something as simple as “Falafel guy, ‘Hey princess come back… I give you good price and my number, too’” is more helpful than keeping no record of it at all.


A pedestrian street in Barcelona, Spain

The second type of writer’s block is the “I’ve been living here for a month and nothing is really that new or exceptional-seeming anymore” kind. It’s when you feel like you’ve explored everything there is to explore and are just living a normal life. It’s the stage where writing about the place seems like someone is asking you to write an exciting travel essay on your hometown and what goes on there. My solution for this stage of writer’s block is simple: find the seemingly ordinary things that make your place exceptional. Write about the everyday moments that aren’t so common anywhere else. In Galway, seeing someone have a beer after breakfast isn’t that unordinary. In Moorhead, Minnesota, that would be a little strange. To get past this stage of writer’s block, you need to regain the awe and excitement that you originally had about the place.


Low tide on the coast near Doolin, County Clare, Ireland

The last stage of writer’s block here is the “Wait I only have a month left and have to do all the things” kind. It’s what happens when you realize you are leaving soon and haven’t ticked off nearly enough boxes on your bucket list for this place, and you suddenly feel an intense panic and fear of missing out. You suddenly put everything else on hold to go to that one pub you’ve walked by countless times but never actually walked in to, or to take the long way home because you’ve always thought about it but never have. It’s what happens when you’re suddenly impulse buying bus tickets to places you’ve heard about, but just never made the trip to. It’s the kind of writer’s block where you avoid writing because you’re scared you’re going to miss something memorable.

This, I think, is the trickiest stage of writer’s block. In a couple of months I probably won’t think so and will have half a dozen solutions that I could rattle off easily, but right now I’m stuck in this stage of writer’s block, and can’t seem to find an easy way out of it. For now, the best I can do is copy my ways of dealing with the first stage of writer’s block, and hope that I don’t miss out on too much while I’m here.

Editor’s Note: All photographs by Lauren Wilson.



Editorial Assistant Lauren Wilson is a junior at Concordia College, double-majoring in English writing and global studies. After study abroad experiences to Scotland, England, and France, she’s pursuing her interests in travel writing. She’s spending her junior year abroad: Fall 2015 in India, Spring 2016 in Ireland, and Summer 2016 in Australia. She will be posting monthly about being a writer-in-progress abroad.


Our BAE Call for Submissions Explained: Submit!

We’re home from #AWP16! It was great to meet so many of Assay’s current and future writers. If you can believe it, Editor Karen Babine and Managing Editor Renée E. D’Aoust met for the first time in person at #AWP16. Here’s a picture of them following their panel (with Michael Steinberg, Philip Lopate, and Mimi Schwarz) “Old Neighborhoods, New Locales: How Place Shapes Our Writing and Our Literary Identities.” (One highlight of the panel was what Karen called “converting people to the cult of Paul Gruchow,” and the rumor is that the Milkweed booth sold out of Gruchow after our panel.) Many thanks to all who attended.


In addition to being on a panel, Contributing Editor Taylor Brorby hosted signings and an off-site reading to celebrate the publication of the anthology, which he edited, “Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America” (Ice Cube Press).


We continue to read submissions for next year and spoke in person with many of you at #AWP16 about what we’re doing with our BAE focus. Here’s the lowdown:

We’re concentrating on Best American Essays in our Fall and Spring issues and looking specifically for work that addresses it. For two years (nearly since the beginning of the magazine), our intrepid editorial assistant Nick has been working on a BAE data mining project to make the entirety of the Notables and reprints into a searchable database. He’s graduating in May and we should be able to release the project not too long after he recovers from graduation. The project opens up even more space to discuss Best American Essays.

There are a lot of conversations about BAE we need to put into print, because we as nonfiction writers place a lot of value on BAE and we often simply accept its place in our genre. We talk about in in the fall around water coolers and via social media when the issues appear, but extended discussions need to be considered and put into print.

How do we teach with it–and why? What’s the pedagogy of BAE? This could take the form of scholarship or it could be in the form of an extended lesson plan or assignment. Most of us have favorite essays that have been reprinted—analysis, love songs, etc. of those are most welcome. We want to see work on individual essays; analysis of trends across issues; consideration of the introductions, which are often seen as proto-criticism in a genre that doesn’t have much.

Is the value of BAE in the snapshot of a year that it offers? Is the value in the reprints? In the Notables? Karen keeps thinking back to Stephen Jay Gould’s introduction to the 2002 issue and his observation that he could have filled the entire issue with 9/11 essays, but chose not to. It’s great that online journals are now counted among the journals eligible for BAE—and that’s a necessary shift it’s been interesting to witness in the issues. Does BAE truly represent the best of what’s published in the year?

How do we think about the issue editors, especially as they demonstrate that there’s a divide between nonfiction inside and outside the academy (obviously none of the editors/founders of the main nonfiction journals have ever edited an issue). Nonfiction already represents a divide between disciplines (between composition and rhetoric, literature, and creative writing), as well as between popular magazines (like The New Yorker) and literary magazines. There’s a lot to talk about and our goal is to represent as much of this as possible.

Deadline for full consideration for the Fall issue is 5/1! Click here for the submission guidelines.

The Travel-Writer-In-Process by Lauren Wilson

[Editor’s Note: Though you’ll notice that Lauren wrote this prior to her travels, we’re posting it after her trip, so we can include Lauren’s photographs from Vienna and Budapest.]


Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

There are few things I enjoy more than visiting a new city. The new sites, smells, flavors, and languages all give me an electric feeling. I buzz with excitement. I love the blank canvas that is an unexplored city.

But, if I had to choose something I love more than my first time in a city, I would say the time leading up to getting there. The time spent learning as much as I possibly can about that city, finding any travel writing people have done about it, figuring out where I’m going to stay, what I want to see, what kinds of food I will get to try. I love the anticipation it builds, and also the background knowledge it helps me to have of the places I visit. When I haven’t yet been to a place, everything is completely open to my imagination and what I can find online or in a book. I don’t yet know how suffocatingly hot it gets in the middle of the afternoon, or how the fish market smells, or how beautifully green the parks really are. I don’t know for sure how much I will or will not like the place.

In less than a week, I will be heading off on a five-day trip to Vienna and Budapest. I have never been to either city, the list of people I know who have been is pretty short. So I’ve had to turn to other resources for what to do/see/expect while I’m there.


Museum Quarter, Vienna

I first got the idea for this trip in the European history class I am currently taken. I’ve never taken European history before (small town public school problem, I suppose), so this was my first real introduction to the pre-World War I Austro-Hungarian empire. We didn’t talk about the culture of the place at all, but the fact that this region of the world—which I had never thought that much about before—had once ruled so much of it. I decided I had to see it for myself. So I booked a couple of plane tickets and one bus ticket and started to plan my trip. I got in touch with the few people I know who’ve been there and heard everything they had to say, and then I took to the Internet.


Wiener Eistraum, Vienna

Travel essays are a traveler’s best friend. It was easy enough to find writing on Vienna. “Return to Vienna: Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again,” by Janna Graber is my favorite so far about that city. The way she describes the culture, and the way Vienna became her home while she was there, has filled me with an ache to experience the same things. I won’t have the time she did, but who knows, maybe I will feel something similar?


St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest

Budapest, on the other hand, was a lot harder to find essays about. It took a piece published in The Telegraph, for me to find anything that wasn’t a tourist guide to the city. “Just Back: Check Mate in Budapest,” by Ally Gale is a short blurb that won The Telegraph’s travel writing competition back in May of 2015. In less than 500 words, Gale paints a short, vivid picture of the tiniest piece of Hungarian society. Even though her essay tells nothing of the culture of Budapest, it makes me want to do nothing more than sit at the train station and see if someone will invite me to a game of chess. Her story could have taken place in any city, but now it is inextricably linked to Budapest and it has flavored the way I look at the city, and the way I will explore it.

With those essays stuck in my head, and a few Wikipedia searches on what to eat and see saved on my phone, I’m ready to go and explore. Maybe I’ll even add to the limited travel writing on Budapest.


View from Buda Castle, Budapest


LaurenWilsonEditorial Assistant Lauren Wilson is a junior at Concordia College, double-majoring in English writing and global studies. After study abroad experiences to Scotland, England, and France, she’s pursuing her interests in travel writing. She’s spending her junior year abroad: Fall 2015 in India, Spring 2016 in Ireland, and Summer 2016 in Australia. She will be posting monthly about being a writer-in-progress abroad.

CFP: Assay 3.1 and Beyond!


At Assay, we’ve dubbed Year 3 “Year of Best American Essays.” Our intrepid assistant editor Nick Nelson, who’s been with us since the beginning, has been working to make the reprints and Notables of Best American Essays into a searchable form, and his project will be released in the next several months. He started the project in the fall of 2014, before Assay published its first issue, and the scope has grown considerably as he has pursued it. The project is truly exciting, a wonderful and useful piece of work for our genre, and we are thrilled to share it with the world. Stay tuned for the release date.

2016 is the 30th anniversary of the Best American Essays series and we can’t think of a better gift than attention paid to this institution that forms so much of who we are as a genre. Essay Daily started things off so well with their Advent project in December–and if you haven’t checked it out, you’ll want to. Best American Essays, as a literary series and foundational element of our genre, is such a rich source of conversation. As we also celebrate BAE’s anniversary and Nick’s project, we will devote a section of the magazine in both 3.1 (Fall 2016) and 3.2 (Spring 2017) to interrogating BAE as the standard bearer of the genre, the pedagogy of teaching with it, analysis of individual pieces, and any other place creativity strikes.

imageWe’re looking for full scholarly articles, we’re looking for informal discussions, we’re looking for pedagogical theory, lesson plans, assignments, and more. The introductions to BAE have long been considered the beginnings of nonfiction theory–where does that put us as a genre? If you’re not sure what you’re working on is something we’d be interested in, please ask us!

We continue to read and accept general submissions, so even if your current work isn’t on BAE, we’d love to see it. Deadline for full consideration for the fall issue is May 1, 2016; deadline for the Spring 2017 issue is December 1, 2016.  Click here for the link to the full guidelines.