What We Are Looking For: Nonfiction, Lumina XIII

LUMINA’s Nonfiction Editor, Geoff Bendeck, talks about what he’s looking for in a submission, and his own favorite essays.

Submit to Lumina’s Nonfiction Contest judged by Cheryl Strayed.


In Phillip Lopate’s book Show Don’t Tell, he says, “Let us not disdain the classic mandate of the nonfiction writer to make sense of the world, to tell about it in lucid, rational terms.” At the heart of all essays there should be some ambition to answer to the reality of life, to work through an issue, to surrender to the truth, whether it shows you in a positive or negative light. Of course the writing should be clear and concise as well.

Overwhelmingly most literary journal submissions are personal essays but that isn’t to say it’s the only thing LUMINA is looking to publish. I’d love to see some hybrid essays a la Geoff Dyer, David Shields and Kate Zambreno. Send us your best work and surprise us with your form.

While trying to think of what ideally I’d love to see in the next issue of LUMINA, I came up with the following list of essays (let’s call them my dream submissions). Each one is a masterpiece in its own right, and what they all have in common is the raw truth of life: it isn’t always simple or pretty.

Geoff’s ideal essays:

The Fourth State of Matter by Jo Ann Beard, The New Yorker

This is an essay that tackles the most important and urgent themes we wrestle with daily: love and death. Love for dying pets, for failing marriages and the brittle nature and uncertainty of life, that one day it can simply all be over with no warning. What haunts me still about this essay is the way Jo Ann Beard deals with the blind luck that she survived and the others didn’t.

Heroin/e by Cheryl Strayed, Junklit.com

What I love about this essay is its unapologetic nature. I read this before I read Wild and fell right in love with Cheryl’s voice. Like Jo Ann Beard and Annie Dillard, Strayed is brutal on herself and right away we will follow her wherever she chooses to take us.

The Deer at Providencia by Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk

I push this essay on anybody I can. Dillard is a fearless writer and perhaps her own harshest and least apologetic critic. The essay is short yet it bleats like an alarm, shaking the reader awake with beautiful declarative sentences. Suffering, Western views on suffering, and the general mystery of life are all addressed here. “These things are not issues; they are mysteries,” she says.

Letter from Williamsburg by Kristin Dombek, The Paris Review

Something is happening with this essay I am still trying to understand. An essay about sexuality and Brooklyn that is original, funny and open. Dombek shows us that truly some time has to pass before the past can be understood, before the past is able to provide clarity and context for the present. She’s writing about a place and about herself and how the two can become inexplicably intertwined.

My Brother by Phillip Lopate, Lumina Volume VIII (Submit and buy Volume VIII to read it!)

In issue VIII of Lumina, Phillip Lopate tenderly talks about his relationship with the other well known Lopate and muses on family and siblings. It’s tender yet unsentimental, a balance hard to pull off.

The Old Man at Burning Man by Wells Tower, GQ

Tower is mostly known for his fiction but he is a brilliant essayist in his own right. What happens when you take your 70-something father to Burning Man with a few of his fellow senior citizens? It’s funny, brilliant and subtly reflective.

Ready to Submit to Lumina’s Nonfiction Contest? Click here for more details.