There’s a big new game in town, and you can play. Before, Best Food Writing, an anthology compiled by freelance writer Holly Hughes, came out every year. You would submit your writing, and she decided what to accept. That run ended in 2017.
It’s probably because a new The Best American Food Writing debuted in 2018, published by Mariner Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The senior Editor is Silvia Killingsworth, who finds and culls the best work for whoever becomes the guest editor. Killingsworth has written for the New Yorker and was an editor at The Awl and The Hairpin.
The inaugural guest editor for 2018 was the legendary Ruth Reichl. Despite this uptick in talent, The Best American Food Writing 2018 didn’t sell well — I saw the paperback on a clearance table in a bookstore recently.
To be fair, I don’t think the other series ever did that well either. We food writers just loved the idea that our work would be included. (Including me! My essay made it into the last year of Best Food Writing.)
A New Annual Series
This year the guest editor for the new anthology was Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat and star of a Netflix series. She’s a big success story now, so it made sense that she would follow Reichl, but she had her own criteria. In the introduction, she “wanted to make a bold statement by exclusively choosing works by people whom the food world has historically undervalued and marginalized: people of color, queer folks, and women.” Most of the selections do so, even though she read them blind (with no author or publication name listed), narrowing down 100 pieces to about 40.
And she gave this definition: “I’ve always believed that good food writing is simply good writing: compelling, intelligent, at times lyrical, and driven by narrative and voice.”
“Good food writing evokes the senses. It makes us consider divergent viewpoints. It makes us hungry and motivates us to go out into the world in search of new experiences. It charms and angers us, breaks our hearts, and gives us hope. And perhaps more importantly, it creates empathy within us.”
What They Want for 2020
So now you know what Nosrat looked for, but what about next year? We don’t know whom the guest editor will be and what this person will value.
But if you’d like your work to be considered, remember that Killingsworth is the gatekeeper. She’s the one who selects the pieces initially and distills them into 100 selections for the guest editor to consider.
So, as a hint, here’s her definition of food writing, from the current anthology: “But of course food writing isn’t all about preferences and taste and whether a restaurant is any good. It’s also about journalism — probing the larger world for truths, asking where our food comes from, who cultivates it, and who prepares it — as well as cultural criticism.
“And then there’s pure storytelling: histories of hunger and chronicles of joy or pain. A catalog of all the complex thoughts a young woman can have at the sight of an egg. Food writing is just another way of looking at the world, and there is no one true form of it, despite what the scolds may say.”
I emailed Killingsworth to see if she had any further advice or additional information. Here’s what she said:
“I’m looking for a pretty big pool of submissions for the long list, which I put together as the series editor. I will collect 100-125 pieces over the course of the year, from which the guest editor will choose ~25 or so that end up in the final collection.
“The criteria are quite broad, because we want a real range of submissions and finalists. The only official requirements are that the pieces have been published in 2019 in a North American publication (Canada counts!).
“I’m always keeping an eye out for submissions from unlikely places—there are a lot of ‘establishment’ publications, which are both reliable and obvious as sources for some of the best writing out there, but because we’re very well aware that good writing can happen outside the anointed walls of traditional media, we’re especially open to submissions from online food publications, or publications that aren’t even strictly speaking about food. Newspapers, journals, and reviews are all eligible.
How to Submit Your Writing
You can wait to see if she discovers your work, but why not be more direct and just submit it? Send your best 2019 submissions to Silvia DOT Killingsworth AT gmail.com. The deadline is December 31, 2019. Good luck!
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(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.)