Best citizen-thinker

Eula Bliss

It was Jeff Shotts, Eula Biss's editor at Graywolf Press, who came up with the term "citizen-thinker" to describe her, and it's remarkably apt. Biss isn't afraid of knotty and complicated subjects—her two most recent books, Notes From No Man's Land and On Immunity: An Inoculation, consider race and vaccination, respectively—but she's no preacher or polemicist. Instead, she's a writer of lucid, elegant prose. Her work is the result of care and time and serious thought: she begins not by choosing a position and doing research to support it, but with her own experiences and observations and dilemmas (like whether to vaccinate her newborn son). She asks questions, seeks out answers, and thinks her way to conclusions. It's exciting to follow that process on the page, especially when her research takes her on unexpected tangents—the role telephone poles have played in the history of race in America, for example, or the connection between vaccination and vampirism. In the end, though, Biss's work comes back to one major, important consideration: What is the responsibility of an individual to her community? After reading her, it's impossible not to rethink your own place in the world.