Ten months ago, I issued an invitation in this space: "If you think you can write a magazine column with personality, fresh insight, keen observation and an original take on the tumultuous times in which we find ourselves, we want to hear from you." And, if that weren't asking enough, I indicated that we were looking for someone with "a vivid sense of self, keenly aware without being self-glorifying. Honest. Revealing. Provocative."
We knew I would get hundreds of responses, but, after years of reviewing unsolicited manuscripts, I knew it would be extraordinary to find one person who could fill those expectations.
I sure didn't expect to have the problem of finding too many.
But, in effect, that's what happened, and it gave us an idea. Instead of replacing Jeanne Marie Laskas's wonderful column of 14 years standing with a single columnist (talk about a tough act to follow), we'd replace it with a single concept, open to diverse voices. The result is XX Files, which debuts today on Page 35.
The "XX" part of the name refers to the chromosomal makeup of its authors. The reference to the megahit '90s television series is intended to suggest that we're in for some surprises. Plus, "The X Files" just happened to be set in Washington, and this column will have a decidedly Washington perspective.
Which brings us to our first contributor, Sandra Beasley, a 28-year-old award-winning poet and books editor at the American Scholar. Beasley inaugurates XX Files with a Washington saga involving the self-hazing of young professionals, in which she is left unusually exposed.
In coming weeks, others who delighted us with their talents will chime in: Wanda E. Fleming on how a pervy note sent to her Web site turned her into her stalker's stalker. Rachel Manteuffel on what wedgies and the Silver Surfer mean for churchgoing 20-somethings. Caitlin Gibson on spending way too much money to save her pet guinea pig. We've also invited established writers to contribute. Anita Jain, fed up with the American dating scene, moves to her native India to find a husband the old-fashioned way. Sonya Huber, whose work has appeared on McSweeney's and Literary Mama, wonders when she can afford to have a baby. Susan Cheever, a Guggenheim fellow who wrote a biography of her father, the novelist and short story master John Cheever, offers a provocative essay in praise of one-night stands. Trust me, you're not going to want to miss that one.
Tom Shroder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.