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The Briefest of Moments

Friday from the Archives: “The Culprit: Reflections on the Bleeding Edge” an essay by Daniel James Waters from NCLR 30 (2021).

What a gift, life is. Few are as aware of this truth on a daily basis as an operating room surgeon. Daniel James Waters wrote about this as a creative nonfiction piece in our 2021 “Writing Towards Healing” feature.

“My first published story was about the dead man on the operating table, written as soon as I got home from the hospital. I used words, I realize now, to heal a different kind of wound, to try and make sense of the tragedies that would always leaven the triumphs. I’ve used them often since that day and for the same reason.” he wrote. His piece ranges from his first incision to his last and includes his own turn going under the knife. About his tumor removal, Waters believes, “I think my having the same scar they had
helped them more easily forgive me for having left my mark on them.”

Another of our 2021 feature authors, Laura Hope-Gill, is our winner of the 2023 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her story of living with a traumatic brain injury will be published soon. But you don’t have to write about injuries to submit a piece to the Albright contest, which will open January 15th for the 2024 competition.

Waters quotes Emily Dickinson in his essay:

“Surgeons must be very careful
When they take the knife!
Underneath their fine incisions
Stirs the Culprit – Life!”

The best creative nonfiction we’ve read is not dissimilar: carefully worked stories that will likely leave an emotional hole in the readers. Whatever topic you choose, we look forward to your submissions to the Albright contest in January!

Read the rest of the story in the 2021 issue on ProQuest or order it for your collection.