When I become interested in an idea, I want to know what I think about it—so I write essays. But I also, frequently, want to know what others think about the same idea. If I think enough people might be interested, I try to edit a collection of essays. Editors don’t talk to each other that often. There are organizations of writers, but editors are strewn about, having occasional conversations that are rarely recorded. For this series of dialogues, I’ve tried to gather some editors of nonfiction anthologies to talk together. I fed them a few questions, which they’ve responded to or not. Their conversations are as interesting, as lively, as their anthologies. —David Lazar
This interview focuses on the Singer/Walker-edited collection Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction.
David Lazar: To what extent do you think anthologizing is a radical act, or can be? To what extent might it be conservative, or the impulse to preserve? Can you speak to these impulses or tensions?
Do you see your role as anthologist as transparent or abundant; when someone picks up your anthologized volume, is your presence generous or minimal?
To what extent has the volume you have edited stayed close to the idea you originally envisioned for the anthology? Did it evolve?
Most anthologies have somewhat limited shelf lives—some rather short, some longer. The influence they have is not necessarily commensurate with the length of time the anthology stays in print. What did you most want from your anthology? To keep work in print, or to influence a discussion, or the literary zeitgeist, or some balance therein?
We all have favorites that we seek to supplement, or even competitively, to replace. In addition to your own work, two of my favorite essay anthologies are Lydia Fakunkiny’s The Art of the Essay (1990) (she just died this year after a long career at Cornell) and Christopher Morley’s Modern Essays (1921). Both have very sympathetic introductions. What are some of your favorites? And speak to your anterior and ulterior anthological motivations.
In making your choices, especially with contemporary writers, there are going to be cuts and inclusions that have consequences amongst one’s writer friends, since one is forming a canon of the included, a personal charmed circle of those who deserve to be in the book. Could you talk about your considerations and some of the responses you’ve received?