Four Knox Writers Appear in Best American Essays Collection

Student and Professor Share Notable Mention Honor

October 04, 2013

Ander Monson, Natania Rosenfeld, Sam Butler, and Anna Leahy

by Laura Pochodylo '14

The work of four Knox College writers, covering a variety of topics -- from Elvis Presley to gravity -- has been honored by The Best American Essays 2013, a collection that showcases the best writing of the year.


The Writers

An essay by Ander Monson '97 that originally appeared in Normal School literary magazine, "The Exhibit Will Be So Marked," is one of 26 works published in the collection. Monson is a professor of nonfiction at The University of Arizona and is founder and editor of New Michigan Press and DIAGRAM, one of the first online literary journals. He is the author of two books of nonfiction, a novel, and two books of poetry. In 2008, Monson received the Knox College Young Alumni Achievement Award.

Work from three other Knox writers appear in the Notables section of the book, in recognition of the quality of their writing:

  • Best American Essays book cover

    Sam Butler '13
    "Elvis Presley Has Been Avenged," from The Gettysburg Review
    Butler is a content writer for the American Bureau of Shipping, writing human interest pieces for their corporate magazine.

  • Anna Leahy '88
    "Half-Skull Days," from The Pinch
    Leahy is the author of Constituents of Matter, which won the Wick Poetry Prize. She teaches in the MFA and BFA program as Chapman University and directs Tabula Poetica: The Center for Poetry at Chapman University. She edits TAB: The Journal of Poetry and Poetics. She and husband Douglas Dechow '91 write about aviation and the space exploration.

  • Natania Rosenfeld, Professor of English
    "Gravity," from Fifth Wednesday
    Rosenfeld is the author of Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf. She has taught literature and creative non-fiction at Knox since 1998.

The Program

The honor of having four Knox writers recognized in this prize collection is another accolade for Knox's highly acclaimed creative writing program, which has been recognized by Poets & Writers magazine (New York City) as one of the most successful, awarded, and distinctive undergraduate creative writing programs in the country.

Robin Metz, Director of the Program in Creative Writing, was enthusiastic: "These four achievements extend a long history of creative writing excellence at Knox," he said. "For the past half-century or more, Knox has attracted a superb cadre of award-winning faculty writers and droves of remarkable student writers from around the world. They succeed as students -- our literary magazine Catch has won eight national collegiate championships -- and go on to life-long professional prominence."

"Individually, the achievements are stunning," he indicated. "Collectively, they are breathtaking."

The Collaboration

Butler, who graduated in June, credits the intensive and community-based nature of the creative writing program at Knox with her early success.

"My favorite thing about Knox was the immersive aspect of the creative writing program," Butler said. "We were constantly writing or talking about writing. This carries into my post-Knox life; I write 1500-2000 words a day before work and keep in touch with many of my peers for support and feedback."

Butler wrote her essay for a Knox class, Creative Nonfiction Workshop, taught by Rosenfeld two years ago. She recalls her experience in Rosenfeld's workshop as a transformative time for her story.

"She's a tough teacher to please and gives excellent feedback; I felt motivated by her comments and worked to produce what I hoped were effective personal essays," Butler said. "Natania read my story and made a few suggestions, then told me it was nearly publishable. I was floored by that comment. I admire her work and her instincts and to hear her say something so complimentary was almost unreal."

Rosenfeld says of the piece Butler submitted, "It was stunning; just extraordinarily polished, smart and witty. It was also on quite an unusual subject: a young girl going hunting with her father. Now Sam is 22 and is listed in the Notables with such luminaries as Phillip Lopate, a master of the personal essay whose work we read in that class."

In addition to sharing space in the Notables section with writers like Lopate, Butler considers it an honor to share the recognition with her former writing professor.

"I love that Natania and I are both Notables this year. My essay wouldn't exist without her; there's no one with whom I'd rather share this experience," Butler said.