Here’s a long story about a short essay:
At the beginning of 2016, I wrote an essay about Cosmopolitan magazine for my upper-division composition class. My professor, David Masiel, nominated it for Prized Writing, UC Davis’s magazine for undergraduate writing, and Amy Clarke, the faculty editor at the time, selected it and gave me some of the most thoughtful, robust edits I’ve received to date. At the end of senior year, I got a copy of my essay in print alongside other terrific student writers in Prized Writing 2016, free appetizers at the book’s celebration event, and, if memory serves, $100 of prize money.
In August 2019, I was in New York for my very first week of training as a sales representative for W. W. Norton’s college department. I found myself at a dinner with a few fellow trainees and Marilyn Moller, Norton’s rockstar composition editor, and she asked me if I’d come across Prized Writing in my time at Davis. I told her that I was featured in it, and she asked offhand if I would send her my piece. She was finishing up a brand-new composition book for the following year, and needed an example of student writing to demonstrate good analysis, and from my short description, she though my essay might fit the bill.
In Fall 2021, composition students across the country will be reading that essay in the analysis chapter of Let’s Talk by Andrea Lunsford. It’s a delight to see my essay in print again, again alongside some truly impressive student writers.
I couldn’t have guessed that my Cosmo essay would go this far. I have a lot of feelings about it, to be honest. I wrote it because I thought it was funny that Cosmo was mixing progressive, hard-hitting news coverage with fashion shoots and masturbation tips, and in my research I found that Cosmo was an elegant entry point to ideas about feminine vs. masculine media, and by extension, about femininity and masculinity. I was encouraged by my professor and then by my editor to explore this new territory, to think about my own relationship to femininity, to complicate the essay’s argument, to take my own questions and feelings seriously on the page. To be taken seriously as a writer, at a time when I didn’t know whether I even was a writer, was an incredible gift. It meant the world to me then. Still does. More than anything, I’m grateful for that early lesson that “serious writing” could include any subject matter I wanted, as long as I wanted to explore it thoughtfully. I like to imagine young college students reading my essay and learning that lesson too. And I really like to imagine what they might write next.