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Our Culture Writers Pick The Best Essays Of 2016

This year might have been our craziest yet. Thankfully, writing helped us make sense of it.

Posted on December 19, 2016, at 6:23 p.m. ET

Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News

1. Bim Adewunmi

These five pieces gave me joy or illuminated a subject so cleanly and perfectly that I felt, briefly, like an expert. And in 2016, that was very welcome. —BimYou Haven't Seen Everything John Cho Can Do —E. Alex Jung, VultureTo Love Your Sister Is To Grieve Your Twin —Tomi Obaro, BuzzFeed Laura Mvula: ‘My body spasms. I think I’m going to collapse’ —Tom Lamont, The GuardianVertical Descent: Adventures in Synchronized Swimming —Elisabeth Donnelly, VQR The Grace of Keanu Reeves —Angelica Jade Bastién, Bright Wall/Dark Room
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

These five pieces gave me joy or illuminated a subject so cleanly and perfectly that I felt, briefly, like an expert. And in 2016, that was very welcome. —Bim

You Haven't Seen Everything John Cho Can Do —E. Alex Jung, Vulture

To Love Your Sister Is To Grieve Your Twin —Tomi Obaro, BuzzFeed

Laura Mvula: ‘My body spasms. I think I’m going to collapse’ —Tom Lamont, The Guardian

Vertical Descent: Adventures in Synchronized Swimming —Elisabeth Donnelly, VQR

The Grace of Keanu Reeves —Angelica Jade Bastién, Bright Wall/Dark Room

2. Hannah Giorgis

These are five insightful pieces that tell stories about individuals or small groups — and cut at the heart of the world we all inhabit in the process. —HannahThe Ecstasy of Frank Ocean —Doreen St. Félix, MTV NewsMy Father's House —Reggie Ugwu, BuzzFeedThe Soccer-Star Refugees of Eritrea —Alexis Okeowo, The New YorkerI Will Never Underestimate White People's Need To Preserve Whiteness Again —Damon Young, Very Smart BrothasQuiet Storm —Clover Hope, Fader
Cari Vander Yacht for BuzzFeed News

These are five insightful pieces that tell stories about individuals or small groups — and cut at the heart of the world we all inhabit in the process. —Hannah

The Ecstasy of Frank Ocean —Doreen St. Félix, MTV News

My Father's House —Reggie Ugwu, BuzzFeed

The Soccer-Star Refugees of Eritrea —Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker

I Will Never Underestimate White People's Need To Preserve Whiteness Again —Damon Young, Very Smart Brothas

Quiet Storm —Clover Hope, Fader

3. Scaachi Koul

Reading this year has been entirely about trying to distract myself from whatever fiery hellscape has been going on outside my front door, so most of what I read — even when it was, indeed, about Trump — served as some kind of distraction, or comfort, or something to bring me closer to sanity. Sometimes you just want to read some good writing and a weird story while you stock your underground bunker, you know? —ScaachiThe Year In Avatars —Navneet Alang, HazlittAs Not Seen On TV —Pete Wells, The New York TimesDonald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All —Jane Mayer, The New YorkerThe Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens —Elspeth Reeve, The New RepublicKim Kardashian West on Kanye and Taylor Swift, What's In OJ's Bag, and Understanding Caitlyn —Caity Weaver, GQ
GQ

Reading this year has been entirely about trying to distract myself from whatever fiery hellscape has been going on outside my front door, so most of what I read — even when it was, indeed, about Trump — served as some kind of distraction, or comfort, or something to bring me closer to sanity. Sometimes you just want to read some good writing and a weird story while you stock your underground bunker, you know? —Scaachi

The Year In Avatars —Navneet Alang, Hazlitt

As Not Seen On TV —Pete Wells, The New York Times

Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All —Jane Mayer, The New Yorker

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens —Elspeth Reeve, The New Republic

Kim Kardashian West on Kanye and Taylor Swift, What's In OJ's Bag, and Understanding Caitlyn —Caity Weaver, GQ

4. Tomi Obaro

These are the five pieces that I can’t stop thinking about, months after I first read them. —TomiWhy Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality —Wesley Morris, New York Times Magazine Ready for Prime Time —Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker Whatever Happened To the Most Liberated Woman in America? —Alex Mar, Atlas ObscuraThe Weight of James Arthur Baldwin —Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, BuzzFeed The Confessions of R. Kelly —Chris Heath, GQ
Sebastian Kim, GQ

These are the five pieces that I can’t stop thinking about, months after I first read them. —Tomi

Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality —Wesley Morris, New York Times Magazine

Ready for Prime Time —Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker

Whatever Happened To the Most Liberated Woman in America? —Alex Mar, Atlas Obscura

The Weight of James Arthur Baldwin —Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, BuzzFeed

The Confessions of R. Kelly —Chris Heath, GQ

5. Anne Helen Petersen

These pieces speak my twin concerns as an academic-turned-journalist: how to engage in rigorous exploration of ideas while also devoting oneself to deeply-observed and reported detail. —Anne HelenSlavery's White Women —Sarah Blackwood, The Hairpin The Great Recession —Shonni Enelow, Film Comment Hunger Makes Me —Jess Zimmerman, HazlittThe Babysitter's Club —Jesse Barron, Real Life The Cost of Caring —Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
Ventral is Golden / Real Life

These pieces speak my twin concerns as an academic-turned-journalist: how to engage in rigorous exploration of ideas while also devoting oneself to deeply-observed and reported detail. —Anne Helen

Slavery's White Women —Sarah Blackwood, The Hairpin

The Great Recession —Shonni Enelow, Film Comment

Hunger Makes Me —Jess Zimmerman, Hazlitt

The Babysitter's Club —Jesse Barron, Real Life

The Cost of Caring —Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker

6. Doree Shafrir

These are five pieces that I think did the best job illuminating some aspect of the direction that this country is going in, and what it means. —DoreeAn American Tragedy —David Remnick, The New YorkerInterview With a Woman Who Recently Had an Abortion at 32 Weeks —Jia Tolentino, JezebelWith Child: the Right to Choose in Rapid City —Kiera Feldman, Harper'sNow Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New YorkerDon't Cry for Ivanka — Fear Her —Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeedFor more Best of 2016 content, click here!
Mike Blake / Reuters

These are five pieces that I think did the best job illuminating some aspect of the direction that this country is going in, and what it means. —Doree

An American Tragedy —David Remnick, The New Yorker

Interview With a Woman Who Recently Had an Abortion at 32 Weeks —Jia Tolentino, Jezebel

With Child: the Right to Choose in Rapid City —Kiera Feldman, Harper's

Now Is the Time to Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New Yorker

Don't Cry for Ivanka — Fear Her —Anne Helen Petersen, BuzzFeed

For more Best of 2016 content, click here!

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