Best American Experimental Writing is an anthology series focused on dynamic literature from both emerging and established writers. Selections come from work published in journals the previous year, unpublished solicitations, and a blind submission pool, and the anthology is collaboratively edited by the series editors (Seth Abramson and Jesse Damiani) and a yearly guest editor. This year, the guest editor of Best American Experimental Writing was the poet, performer, and librettist Douglas Kearney, who spoke with BAX managing editor Michael Martin Shea about the selection process and what experimental art can mean today.
Michael Martin Shea: Hi Douglas! Thanks for taking the time to chat about BAX. I want to start off talking about the editing experience itself. Did the process of curating this anthology lead you to question or expand your own notion of “experimental writing?”
Douglas Kearney: One of the submission guidelines stated—I’ll paraphrase it—that “experimental” could simply mean experimental for the writer in question. Of course, to solicit and then select writing of this character requires some knowledge of the writer’s more tried approaches. Even so, I find the idea of experimentation as a potentially idiosyncratic act to be consonant with the idea that experimental is, first, a process and not an aesthetic—a notion I found resonant before Seth invited me to serve as guest editor. On the other hand, working on BAX 2015 led me to consider how what might not seem legibly experimental to some readers might be clearly experimental in the context of the tradition from which the writer works. I’d love to explore that more now as a reader than selector.