Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Truths On A Page For All The World To Read

Everyone has opinions about the fiction they read, the tv and movies they watch, the art they consume, about the subjects they study.  Everyone has those opinions, and they’re entitled to them.

But there’s a category of people who take their opinions and turn them into art, or who take a deep dive on knowledge that turns into a story.

Those people are nonfiction writers.

They are able to take a personal experience, an opinion on media, a historical moment, and make it come alive. They are able to make an opinion a visceral experience, something you feel, not just something you read.

I’m one of those people.

But what I almost enjoy more than writing nonfiction, is editing it.

Joy, for me, comes from reading a piece from a nonfiction author, and being able to feel the steady beat of their heart in the cadence of a sentence. Being able to guide them towards a more impactful thesis statement, one that would cause anyone to understand them and their story.

There’s a beauty to nonfiction, both writing and editing it, because nonfiction is wildly important to the ecosystem of a writing community.

Nonfiction keeps us honest. It keeps us accountable. Nonfiction is the genre of writing that tells us in no uncertain terms where we’re going wrong – and where we’re on a steady course. It is like the algae that keeps the waters clear of pollutants.

It is in nonfiction editing where I find myself at my most empathetic, too. I find myself immersed in another person’s perspective, and my job isn’t to tell them what they think but to show the writer where I don’t understand – and how I think they can make me understand them better.

That’s the magic of nonfiction. It has the ability to change your perspective. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen people reassess their own personal opinions – often about beloved fiction – based on the essays of those whom the fiction has harmed. A few examples from Uncanny’s nonfiction section include RF Kuang’s “How to Talk to Ghosts” which spoke so deeply to my understanding of my own past, but also brought me closer to Kuang’s much lauded The Poppy War, which shares DNA with a history I do not know well.

In another essay Marieke Nijkamp searingly described what it feels like to be left out of the future in “The Future is (not) Disabled.” Editing this piece was a joy, because Marieke fiercely articulated feelings I share with them, frustrations with a genre that often go unspoken.

And in my own work for Uncanny, I wrote “How to Make a Paper Crane” which straddled the line of short fiction and essay so well, people still think it was a short story. A piece which I get e-mail for, telling me that others feel the same rage that I do.

I have seen the genre itself shift and change based on response to the work of those who are willing to put their own truths out onto the page, for all the world to read.

But why is that healthy for a writing community?

Because we can’t rely on the tropes that constantly harm people. We have to grow and change – it’s healthy. It is healthy to change and learn, and the stories that we tell only get better the more that we learn from one another.

There is no greater honor for me than to be editing nonfiction for a genre that I love, for a community that I want to support. There is no greater love from me than an essay that helps you to see the things I do, and to understand the world I live in better.

Nonfiction is one of the greatest chances we have to understand one another.

I hope you’ll consider supporting Uncanny Magazine on Kickstarter this summer, so that I can not only bring you incredible nonfiction in 2020, but so that we can raise the rates to pay our essayists a better wage. Essayists we’ve already gathered for Year Six include: Ada Palmer, Meg Elison, G. Willow Wilson, Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Brandon O’Brien, Hillary Monahan and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.

Join me in reading the truths they’ll bring to us. Difficult, extraordinary, thoughtful truths which will change us. Which will change our genre. Which will change the world.