We are delighted to publish our inaugural issue titled “Beyond Truth vs. Fiction.” For this first issue, we are publishing writing solicited from the members of the Advisory Board and Contributing Editors. The range of submissions exceeded our expectations, as did the creative bold ways each writer responded to our call to action to explore the “speculative” in nonfiction; essay after essay reflects a vital core of creative excitement and discovery. We’ve also included a podcast discussion between Founding Editors Leila Philip and Robin Hemley in which they discuss their vision for the magazine and why they thought there was a need for such a journal. While we’ve also written a kind of speculative manifesto to set forth our goals and the identity of the journal, we try not to define too narrowly what a speculative essay is. To do so, would be not only futile but would also go against the expansive aims of this project. We’re here to advance the dialogue well beyond the truth versus fiction debate, to see what else we have to talk about when we talk about nonfiction.

We’re proud to present in Speculative Nonfiction some of the leading and most inventive stylists we know.  Some of them have given us original essays and some have given us previously published work. While we hope to showcase as much original work as possible in future issues, we’re not overly concerned whether an essay was published in another journal or book first, as we’re much more interested in collecting in the same space works that are inventive and smart in the ways they dream about the world.  

Some of our essays in this issue go all in, as it were, such as Xu Xi’s “A Brief History of Deficit, Disquiet, and Disbelief,” a playful but utterly serious exploration (in the way of Jonathan Swift) of a disputed island that floats in the air between Japan and China. David Shields performs, teases, and mimics the many questions he’s been thrown over the years, using them not to provide answers but to argue with one another. Lia Purpura’s vivid essay, “Walk with Snowy Things,” reminds us that not all nonfiction comes in story form. What we call “story” inevitably seeks to reconcile our experiences by placing them in a construct that has to do with their relationship to time. Jerald Walker’s funny yet searing essay, “Advice to an Honorable Man,” begins with the second person directive “you,” immediately alerting us to the role of speculation and the distances between what we know and what we think we know about ourselves as social beings in the world. Joshua Wolf Shenk’s dramatic essay, “On an Ordinary Monday Morning,” breaks the fourth wall of nonfiction from the first line onward, replacing the expected first person narrator of personal essay with the character of “the speculator.”  Gretel Ehrlich’s evocative prose piece, dense as agate, reveals itself through surprise and artful reversal. What we expect is not what we will get, and in her prose the terms of speculation are enlarged to consider human consciousness in the context of our larger environment. Harrison Candelaria Fletcher’s compelling prose work “Water For Roots,” illustrates how the guiding motion of an essay can be metaphor, which reveals in a moment surprising links between disparate things.  Mary Cappello’s dense, yet wonderfully lucid prose excerpt, “The Exciting or Opiatic Effect of Certain Words” delves into the imaginative power of words themselves, becoming a de facto exploration of linguistic speculations.  Margo Jefferson figuratively examines actual sweat, particularly the unembarrassed sweat of black musicians, and what its meant to her and to the multitudes.  Ander Monson, in “Blainsong,” takes on the persona of Blain Cooper from 1987’s Predator and melds the character with a pumped up interior monologue by Jesse Ventura, the sometime actor who played Blain, a ribute (more of a rib than a tribute) to masculinity and the many fictional personae each of us contain. David Carlin’s whimsical and wise “A might be for Apples: Three objects in the After-Normal,” riffs on minutia and the promise of metaphor, asking us to mire ourselves in muck rather than concern ourselves with draining swamps. Nicole Walker takes a deceptively-playful-but-actually-really-somewhat-sad-and-alarmed look at the state of our planet by considering the state of our planet through a close look at household arguments, water, and oysters in “You Can Choose What to Remember.” Inara Verzemnieks’ “What We Have Lost Because We Did not Know to Ask,” powerfully speculates, backed by meticulous research, from the vantage point of an elderly relative in Latvia whose life and times have collapsed in his mind. Lina Ferriera’s surprising essay, “Thinking it was Something you could Hunt and Kill,” turns the writer into a comically helpless character, enlarging the role of the imagination, and creating a space for speculative illusion and sympathy.  

Welcome to Speculative Nonfiction. In closing, we wish to send a huge thanks to Adlin Zainal, our Managing Editor, for all her hard work shepherding this first issue into being.

The Editors
November 1, 2018
USA, Singapore