r. nial bradshaw

Aubrey Hirsch’s Five Masters of Voice

Voice is the main thing that draws me to a piece of writing. I can admire a story for its characters, an essay for its structure, a poem for its images, but the pieces that stick in my soul always find their way in through my ears. I love a writer who spits fire, who lets the ideas come straight from her larynx. Those pieces that stay with me in shadows and echoes long after I’ve finished reading them—those are the ones I keep coming back to when I need a shot of inspiration, or just plain beauty.

These are five women whose writing I’d recognize without the benefit of a byline. Their bodies of work are diverse, but their voices are so distinct, so singular, that they become a kind of alphabetic DNA. Do yourself a favor and click through to some of these links. You’ll see what I mean. And then you’ll thank me.

  1. Stacey Waite

I had the pleasure of hearing Stacey Waite perform her poems before I ever saw them written down. I think my response to her performance was somewhere between “OMG,” “DAAAAYUM” and “O_O.” Here’s a recording of her performing “The Kind of Man I Am at the DMV” if you’d like to treat yo’self. But even when read on the page, the voices in her poems come through loud and clear. They’re sometimes soft, sometimes bullying, often asking and occasionally grieving. Her latest book, the lake has no saint, is a collection of prose poems that explore, among other things, Waite’s discomfort with the binary confines of gender. A genderqueer poet, she explores this territory with wonder, sadness and more humor than you might think possible in such a deeply moving book.

  1. Ashley C. Ford

Ashley C. Ford is a ferocious powerhouse of a writer. Her essays are tender but brutal, and unabashedly honest. I discovered Ford when her essay, “What Burns in the Pit,” appeared on The Rumpus, and I still find bits of her sentences trapped in the folds of my brain like lyrics to a favorite song. Ford writes often about her childhood, her relationship and her body with a moving mixture of self-assessment and confidence that makes her words feel both relatable and aspirational. You can also follow her on Twitter (@iSmashFizzle) for insightful social commentary and Kenny Loggins worship.

  1. xTx

xTx is a pseudonymous writer of fiction and poetry. She’s the author of several books and chapbooks; the latest is Today I Am a Book, a collection of stories that each begin “Today I am a….” Her writing is gutsy, vivid and visceral. Her voice is both sexy and repellant—often at the same time. I can’t read her books in public because they make me blush and sweat and [redacted]. She blends lust and abuse, body and mind, and turns phrases with a strangeness and precision that is wholly and uniquely x.

  1. Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

Another writer whose striking sense of voice I greatly admire is Christine Hyung-Oak Lee. She has two books forthcoming in the near future, one of which is based on her Buzzfeed essay about suffering a stroke at the age of 33. In this terrifying piece, she somehow manages to articulate an unarticulatable experience about failures of articulation. But my favorite piece of hers is her essay “Mint.” This piece weaves together a horrifying tale of rape and abuse alongside factual information about mint (as plant, as food, as flavor). The structure is surprising and enormously effective. The essay is composed with skill in a voice that’s both vulnerable and strong. It’s one I return to over and over again.

  1. Amber Sparks

Amber Sparks is the author of several books, most recently, The Unfinished World and Other Stories, which is getting a lot of (well-deserved) attention. I’ve been following Sparks’s work for a long time and it never fails to leave me feeling satisfied, yet strangely haunted. Many of her pieces feel like fairy tales. Others feel like nightmares. Her essay, “Body Map: Mouth Cave,” about a botched dental procedure, begins this way: “Feet up, head down, bright light in my face, telling my dentist to fuck off and die.” If that’s not a voice you can relate to, I don’t know what is.


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