The Best Small Fictions 2015 — Editorial Elucidation from the Editors

“I believe The Best Small Fictions series, which will begin with this 2015 volume, is an extraordinarily important literary event. The art form of the small fiction speaks strongly to the zeitgeist of the 21st century and this sort of focused recognition is long overdue.” –Robert Olen Butler

 The Best Small Fictions 2015 guest editor Robert Olen Butler was kind enough to talk with Pleiades Magazine, a journal to see three of its small fictions included in the anthology’s debut; read about the perils of success, the search for balance, the biggest surprises in selecting authors for BSF, and more in “‘Lone Wolf of a Lie': Robert Olen Butler on The Best Small Fictions of 2015.”

Series editor Tara L. Masih also offers her insight in Fiction Southeast’s Ask an Editor Series on revision and recognition and, of course, the anthology she is responsible for: The Best Small Fictions 2015.

 

Robert Olen Butler, Empire vertical

In Defense of Sherman Alexie

 

Tara L. Masih, series editor of The Best Small Fictions, weighs in on the pseudonym controversy surrounding Michael Derrick Hudson and Best American Poetry 2015:

 

In the past few months, many controversies have been swirling in the literary world, fueled by the Internet, issues dealing with bias at AWP, white writers publishing poetry about black subjects at Rattle, and now this: a white writer posing as a Chinese writer to get published. BuzzFeed is one of the sites that broke the news that poet Michael Derrick Hudson, publishing under the pen name Yi-Fen Chou, was accepted into the 2015 Best American Poetry anthology. Sherman Alexie was the guest editor.

Alexie published a response to the controversy at the BAP blog on Sept. 7. It’s a valuable, intelligent look into the dilemma of being an editor for a Best Of anthology, and I encourage people to read it. While I don’t want to address the subterfuge that Hudson takes on as a writer with a pen name of a different ethnicity, I do want to address, as a “brown editor,” the acute honesty with which Alexie has responded.

I can sympathize, being new on the block to a Best Of series. While I’ve quietly edited anthologies and judged contests over the years, and worked for publishing companies that keep charts on racial demographics in their anthologies (yes, folks, don’t think this is new), I’ve never had the massive responsibility to steer such a complex project fraught with controversy just by being titled a Best Of collection. The very task of compiling anything that declares itself above anything else is going to attract some ire.

As a series editor or guest editor, you just gear up and wait for it, knowing someone will launch a complaint about something.

Therefore, the best thing a series editor or guest editor can do is to judge as objectively as possible, so he or she can withstand any onslaught.

It’s why we here at Best Small Fictions have a tiered system, and the final judging is blind. I feel strongly that the only way to achieve as much objectivity as possible is for the final editor to read without any knowledge of who the writers are, what their gender is, what their ethnicity is. We have to strip down as much information as possible so that the editor can read with blinders on and focus on that narrow lane of a page.

To that end, I decided not to publicly release and applaud our even ratio of men and women in the 2015 BSF anthology. Because while I was initially breaking down the winners list by sex, it occurred to me that I could not judge who was a man and who was a woman by their name alone. By doing that, in this new age where people are changing their gender, I do not want to make a biased decision.

The same should be true of a writer’s ethnicity. It should be kept out of the picture. It should not matter if it is a pen name or not, if the writer is the same color as its narrator. It’s all about the writing.

Except when we are trying to balance the scales.

Alexie did not have the luxury to read blind. BAP does things differently. So there is no point in throwing stones at an editor who must take into consideration, and in fact sees it as a duty to take in, those outer lanes.

I, for one, as a person of color, applaud his awareness in trying to balance those scales. It is time, as witnessed by all the fury over racial issues.

I especially applaud the fact that once he knew he was dealing with a white poet, he agonized over what to do, knowing the onslaught was coming. I can feel the pit in his stomach as he paced his room. Yet after rereading the poem (and I bet he did it obsessively) he still found it to be “compelling.”

How brave, to stand by his initial choice. Isn’t that, in the end, the best kind of objectivity?

In The Best Small Fictions, we, too, have stories that have raised some eyebrows. We, too, stand by them. If you compile a Best Of anthology, you have to do it with objectivity, an eye on the bigger picture, and with confidence that you have run down the track with a heart and mind filled only with the “best” intentions.

Stop pacing, Sherman Alexie, so this editor can give you a high five.

 

Discover Camouflage Country!

Here it is: the final book of 2015 (Dec. 22), ready for its close-up. A truly collaborative compilation, Camouflage Country brings together authors Ryan Ridge & Mel Bosworth and the illustrations of Jacob Heustis in a collection of microfictions/prose poems described by Kathleen Rooney (O, Democracy!) as “a pinball machine of a book, full of bounce and light and crazy ricochets: sentences start, you don’t know where they’ll end up, and this dynamic unpredictability is what gives this collection its life and its victory.”

 

My Brooklyn Writer Friend Pre-Releases

Today marks the pre-release of Greg Gerke’s My Brooklyn Writer Friend, a collection whose “stories conspire, like a dream, to create a world both uncanny and familiar, delirious and quotidian, funny and sad and completely mesmerizing.” (John Haskell, author of I Am Not Jackson Pollock and American Purgatorio)

Get the collection at the special price of $14.95 with immediate shipping.

Read first on the birth of Brooklyn, and be sure to check out the event schedule that follows.

La Naissance of My Brooklyn Writer Friend

I’ve often looked askance at author statements in galleries or museums and people who chose to give an in-depth psychology of prose or verse before reading it aloud. In public dissemination, the art is free of the artist, gone baby gone, and the receiver can chortle, fume, or appropriate as is her wont. I can describe this book’s birth because now, like the parent leaving the child with the agency, my responsibility for it ceases, as Maurice Blanchot says, “Reading is not writing the book again but causing the book to write itself or be written—this time without the writer as intermediary, without anyone writing it.”

And so, I will only act as a literary biographer with no hope of heaping criticism onto this distant enterprise and will try to map the book’s coordinates. With a few exceptions, all of the stories after the first section were written within some weeks of each other, during a very grueling winter just after I moved back to Brooklyn six years ago.  I remember sitting on a bench in Prospect Park, looking at its Long Meadow covered in snow and ice, and writing some stories in longhand while gloved. Surprisingly, amidst the chill, a man crunched through the park’s icy walkways and sat next to me (there is only one bench facing west on the meadow proper) without comment—out of deference for my act or in awe of the failing puce sun about to be eclipsed by a large tower on Prospect Park West.

On another occasion, I couchsurfed in Bed-Stuy. Did that engender the story “My Bed-Stuy Friend”? Possibly, though I awoke another morning there, after attending a literary event in Soho that may have filled me with envy, despair, and anomie, and I scribbled “My Brooklyn Writer Friend.” But I have always seesawed while living in New York, usually writing away from my residence, often in the fusty Mid-Manhattan library on 40th and 5th—a kitten of a building, though six floors high, compared to the lionized behemoth kitty-corner to the kitten, the Steven A. Schwartzman building, as only librarians and those fusspots into the proper name thing call it. Much of my output has gone on in this decaying structure that I chose over its Big Daddy for the simple fact of being able to walk the stacks and peruse any book I fancied. It retains a colorful cast of characters, perspicacious librarians, as well as the homeless, who ofttimes line up eighty deep before opening to be the first in, and various older men who go to their self-appointed floors, and sometimes chairs, and open the volumes accompanying them like so many children. This motley crew includes a dapper Japanese gentleman I have seen on and off for ten years and who just last Tuesday refused to acknowledge my stare at the incredible coiffure that is his hairstyle, with a side part and bangs jutting out like freestanding sculpture. In those years, I too assigned myself the third floor because of its proximity to the Belle-Lettres sections, which I often needed for reference and recharge, including Elizabeth Bishops’s Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring first edition, an object holding a poem that forced its way into a story, the way the weed in her eponymous poem, “lift[s] its head all dripping wet/…/ and answered then: ’I grow,’ it said,/’but to divide your heart again.’” Sitting on the wooden chairs, many stories came to light with the awful silent whine of fluorescence overhead, accompanied by the too loud cell-phone conversation or a person yelling at unseen others.

Many were written in between bouts of sending out job applications and worrying where I would live, sometimes not knowing where I would sleep at night. It was a frantic time. I spent five days of the Christmas week stuck in the Upper East Side bed of my friend’s parents (they were all in the Hamptons) with the second worst flu of my life, having to ask my Harlem friend to buy and bring panaceas galore. Then a month’s sublet in Bushwick, home to the most bedbugs per capita, though luckily only small cockroaches crawled about my bed at night in a windowless room. In the midst of this, I went to interview Paula Fox at her semi-palatial apartment in Brooklyn Heights. I dated a documentarian, but she didn’t make jokes and didn’t get mine. Plus, a few weeks were spent in a second floor apartment off of one of the Lower East Side’s noisiest intersections, Ave. A and 4th, listening for hours to the debaucheries of the new jet set through a thin pane of glass. But it was a glorious time because the muse had pointed her finger and bade me write. I would have never made it through but for the kindness of friends.

My Brooklyn Writer Friend Reading Schedule:

Sept. 28 – Unnameable Books with John Keene and Vincent Czyz; Brooklyn, RSVP

Oct. 8 – Boswell Book Company with Ben Tanzer; Milwaukee, RSVP

Oct. 10 – City Lit Books with James Tadd Adcox and Megan Kirby; Chicago

Oct. 19 – Powerhouse Arena, with Miles Klee; Brooklyn, RSVP

Nov. 4 -Wandering Goat Cafe with Robert Hill Long, Eugene

Nov. 6 – Mother Foucault’s Bookstore with Cheston Knapp, Portland

Nov. 10 – Third Place Books (Ravenna) with Matthew Simmons, Seattle
Future dates in NYC: Sundays at Erv’s

My Brooklyn on template.indd