NDQ in The Best American Essays

North Dakota Quarterly is pleased to announce three “notable contribution” commendations in the 2017 Best American Essays volume. This is a major honor for the Quarterly and its authors and editors. The jury recognized three individual contributions, one by Peter Grandbois and one by W. Scott Olsen, as well as the NDQ special issue celebrating the centennial of Thomas McGrath.

Best American Essays is an annual edited volume that recognizes the best essays written the in preceding year and published in a North American magazine or journal. The editors of each year play a part in the selection and have included such prominent authors as Christopher Hitchens, Kathleen Norris, Jonathan Frantzen, David Foster Wallace, and, this year, Leslie Jamison.


Scott Olsen’s essay describes with stunning photographs and prose, the authors engagement with the brutality of nature during a gale at the Duluth North Pier Light House. “There is no bearded collie. No peat-fueled fire in a stone hearth. No charts or short wave radio. Certainly no bottle of good scotch whiskey. There are, however, windows in the tower. Windows that look out to weather and waves. I paused at one and watched the swells arrive.” You can read and experience Olsen’s essay here.


Kate Sweney, NDQ’s Managing Editor, recognizes Peter Grandbois’ essay titled “Honor” as “One of my favorites, as it traces the history of honor in dueling and connects it to the iconic American western gunfight: “Two men standing on opposite ends of the town, facing each other, their hands poised over their guns, trigger fingers twitching” (15). Yet Grandbois’ principle concern seems to be the contradictory nature of reality as illustrated in the thought experiment known as Schrödinger’s cat, which is both alive and dead unless and until observed, in which case the cat is alive or dead. “Honor” gives us much to mull over. Grandbois begins with, “I have never spoken truly of myself. / The following pages are lies./ I have only spoken the truth. / The following pages are a testament to that truth” (14).

Marty Ross-Dolen’s essay “Diptheria” from Winter 2016 was also recognized as a notable contribution.

The special issue commemorating Thomas McGrath continues NDQ‘s tradition of promoting McGrath work and shaping its critical reception. As Dale Jacobson, a leading McGrath scholars, notes: “This is the second issue NDQ devoted to the work of Tom McGrath, recognizing his essential importance to our culture. Together with the Festschrift that appeared in Fall of 1982, NDQ has gathered a significant body of commentary to reveal how McGrath reaches out to us not only with understanding of our history, but also the struggles for our future. Recognition of NDQ for this contribution is entirely deserved.”

Faculty Editor, Bill Caraher, remarks “The regular recognition of NDQ by Best American Essays places our journal next to such newsstand mainstays as the New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and the New York Times Magazine, as well as the leading national literary journals. This is as much a testimony to the longstanding investment by faculty, staff, and the university into NDQ as well as the commitment to a kind of persistent work in the humanities that often goes unrecognized amid the bling of the latest TED talk, the sparkle of the latest idea festival, or the beeping-boop of the latest gadget. This recognition should remind UND, our authors, and our readers that good essays are valued.”

To celebrate the recognition of the the Thomas McGrath centennial issue, we are making the entire volume available as a free download here. (And you should certainly download and enjoy the Fall 1982 McGrath Festschrift here!).

UPDATE: In our original post we overlooked Marty Ross-Dolen’s essay “Diptheria” in this year’s bounty of recognition. We apologize for this oversight and have updated the post to reflect her essay’s inclusion!

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