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ND alumni included in ‘Best American Essays’

Charlie Ducey | Sunday, November 10, 2013

The editors of the 2013 “Best American Essays” collection, an annual anthology showcasing exceptional essays by American authors, recognized works by three contributors to “Notre Dame Magazine” in this year’s installment.

“His Last Game,” by Brian Doyle, editor of the University of Portland’s “Portland Magazine” and a 1978 Notre Dame alumnus, will appear in the newest volume of “The Best American Essays.”

“Wintry Rooms of Love,” by Mel Livatino, a longtime writer, and “My Life in Clothes,” by Kerry Temple, editor of “Notre Dame Magazine” and a 1974 alumnus, will be included in the “Notable Essays” list.

Doyle said “His Last Game” depicts two brothers playing a game of pickup basketball and going on a drive through familiar neighborhoods.

“[The essay was written] to connect, to tell a story that sings of my brother and all brothers and grace and courage and hoops and pain and laughter and attentiveness and love and loss,” Doyle said.

Doyle said he was shocked the selection committee chose his essay for the collection.

“You want to be read, you want to connect, you want to startle hearts, and I think the essay is the coolest most direct, naked and honest form, the one closest to the speaking voice, closest to how we think inside,” Doyle said.

As a student at Notre Dame, Doyle said he studied English and enjoyed hearing and sharing stories.”I had to read lots of voices and sorts and styles of tale-telling and not just reportage,” Doyle said. “I also loved history and theater as forms of storytelling. English is a great major in that it is really story-catching and story-sharing.”

Doyle said he was not surprised two additional essays from “Notre Dame Magazine” were recognized in “The Best American Essays.”

“‘Notre Dame Magazine’ is not only one of the 10 best in the nation every year, but it has superb writing,” Doyle said. “Kerry Temple is a very fine editor, indeed. I sometimes wonder if Notre Dame appreciates him as much as the rest of the world does.”

Temple said for more than 30 years, he has been deeply involved in the creative process of “Notre Dame Magazine,” reading, writing and reviewing the work of artistic, contemplative and brilliant minds concerning subjects from spirituality to scientific breakthroughs.

“Our subject matter is as wide-ranging as the conversations found on a college campus, at a university that cares about the great questions of the day,” Temple said. “That’s one of the best aspects of ‘Notre Dame Magazine,’ of working here. And when we take on those questions, we reflect Notre Dame’s guiding lights – the moral, ethical, spiritual dimensions of all issues.”

Temple said his essay, “My Life in Clothes,” explores how clothing can define people, for better or for worse. He said knowing a reader has appreciated his work is comforting.

“It’s always great to get the affirmation, especially in that venue,” Temple said. “It’s the 10th time something I’ve done has been cited among the ‘Notable Essays,’ and this was especially fun because it was an offbeat topic.”

Livatino said he is also happy to have his essays recognized, as he views each essay as an adventure with an unknown payoff, not the least of which is the writing process itself.

Livatino’s essay, “Wintry Rooms of Love” explores the hard-hitting tragedy of losing parents and other loved ones to death while embracing the love that brings ‘summer’ to counteract the cold feelings of ‘winter.’ It was Livatino’s first essay to be included in “Notre Dame Magazine,” he said.

Livatino said the process of writing is  steeped in emotion and centered in communicating life’s important messages.

“I don’t really set goals when I write,” he said. “I catch a sight of something out of the corner of my eye, something that intrigues me and that I really want to see fully, and then I begin writing. That initial shiver of emotion pulls me in.”

Doyle said stories have a powerful, communal dimensiot.

“The best stories are not about you. They are about us,” he said. “Ask people about their joys and pain and grace and listen carefully to their stories. Stories are food. Stories are holy.”

Contact Charlie Ducey at cducey@nd.edu