Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Best" Anthologies: Their Importance

New: Two more "Best" anthologies: Best African-American Fiction and Best African-American Essays. Gerald Early, series editor, introduced them yesterday at a reading, saying he learned about African-American literature "largely through anthologies," crediting in particular the anthology Black Fire (1969). Today "Best of" anthologies are rife and writers say that "Bests" are not about what's best, it's all pop and political. Well, I've just changed my mind, not about what's best, but about anthologies.

Anthologies helped me, a clueless working-class kid, become a writer. Thirty years ago I bought paperback anthologies of black, gay, feminist,and/or leftist writers in place of expensive books by individual authors. Without anthologies, I'd never have read more Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Judy Grahn, Tillie Olsen, Susan Griffin, Audre Lorde, Marilyn Hacker, dozens of writers living and past. Those set my reading compass for the next few crucial years, or else I may never have put the words "women" and "writer" or "women" and "politics" together. (It wasn't the way it is now.) I read them to pieces: Sisterhood is Powerful, Mountain Moving Day, To Be of Use, No More Masks, Writing Red, Women and Fiction, even one called Brewing: 20 Milwaukee Poets.

We writers may groan about anthologies, especially the annuals, but bring them on -- they're not for us, anyway. They're for people who maybe aren't being groomed to be writers, but are are going to be writers nonetheless, who will someday suddenly remember some anthology that was a landmark in their lives.

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