Graeme Mitchell; AP Images; Nathaniel Gold

Natalie Angier is a science writer for the New York Times, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. She is the author of four books, including The Canon and Woman: An Intimate Geography. Her review of E.O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth allowed her to write about a scientist she has long admired. “I’ve been following his work for over 30 years,” she says. “What I really appreciate about him is that he’s never been afraid to think big.”

Sloane Crosley, the funny, astute author of two best-selling essay collections, I Was Told There’d Be Cake and How Did You Get This Number, didn’t hesitate when asked to write about that supercharged rite, the high-school prom (“American Prom,”). “It wasn’t difficult to remember the little details,” she says. “My prom dress was hanging in a closet right next to my desk as I wrote it.”

Guy Gugliotta, a former national reporter specializing in science for the Washington Post, has also covered Latin America for the Miami Herald and is the author of two books, most recently Freedom’s Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War. For this issue, he traveled to the Cerrejón coal mine in Colombia to document the fossil excavations of Titanoboa (“Monster Discovery,”), an enormous (and, we hasten to add, long extinct) snake.“If one was lying beside you,” he says, “it would come up to your waist and be about as long as a school bus.”

David Maraniss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor at the Washington Post, is the author of eight books, including Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero. Musing about the iconic humanitarian-ballplayer for us (“The King of Béisbol,”), Maraniss says what has always drawn him to Clemente “was the dramatic arc of his story. He was that rare athlete who grew as a person as his talents diminished.”

Mary Ellen Mark is one of America’s most highly regarded portrait photographers. She is a contributor to the New Yorker, and her work has been published in Life and Vanity Fair. She sees the subject of her 16th and latest book, Prom, as a ritual meant to be photographed. “The camera is so much about detail, and the prom is so much about detail,” says Mark. “The partner you choose and what you wear say so much about who you are.”

Kay Ryan, whom the New York Times has compared to Emily Dickinson, served as the United States poet laureate from 2008 to 2010. The author of eight books of poetry, she has received a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her poem for Smithsonian is “Venice.

Bruce Sterling is the author of 11 science fiction novels and editor of the 1986 anthology Mirrorshades, which defined the genre of cyberpunk. He writes the Beyond the Beyond blog for Wired magazine. His essay about futurism (p. 24) draws on practical knowledge. “I have an interest in design,” he says, “so I use futurist techniques to help designers create nonexistent objects and services.”

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