A.S. King is a prolific YA and middle grade author, writing professor, and the 2022 recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature. Her upcoming anthology, The Collectors, gathers a diverse group of authors to ruminate on the topics of collections, collectors, and the unique drive to collect. We spoke with King about the process of choosing her contributors, subverting storytelling expectations, and the value of weirdness.
How did this anthology come to exist?
You can’t see the wall that’s in front of me, but it’s covered with Post-it notes, and one of the Post-its once said, “short story collection.” I love short stories and I teach short stories at the college where I teach. Originally, I thought it would be a short story collection by me, but then one day I woke up from this surrealist dream and said, “I have to write a collection about collectors.” Why do people collect things? I just started taking notes on all of the thoughts racing through my head, and by midafternoon I realized this was going to be an anthology. That was scary, because I had to ask my agent [Michael Bourret] if I could do an anthology, and a wacky one at that! Thankfully he said yes.
You brought together a wide range of writers to contribute to this story collection. How did you select your authors?
Once I started writing a proposal it was time to think about who I would like to hear from. Back in 2021 when Switch came out, I did interviews with several of the people in this anthology, including Jason Reynolds. And at the end of the interview, he asked me with a big smile on his face, “How come you can’t just write a straight-up book?” And it made me realize that my brain doesn’t let me; it always leads me through a maze or a puzzle. So I knew I had to ask Jason. As for the rest, they’re all people I really wanted to see weird work from. My list was originally twice as long, so I’d love to see a volume two because I have a bunch of other authors I would like to ask. However, [my editor] Andrew Karre was very right in saying we should keep it to 10 authors.
In the introduction you write “there is currency in weirdness.” What do you hope readers, in particular teen readers, will take away from this idea?
I think that no matter how popular you are, in school or beyond, inside of you lives an idea that you’re weird or different somehow. Yet if you invite people to be weird, and they show up, that invites more people to be weird and to be okay with it. And that inner self that they think is so weird is actually not that weird at all because we all have it. I think it’s time to celebrate the weird because it took me until I was in my 50s to understand that the stuff I got bullied for all the way through life was actually really beautiful. That’s what I hope comes out of it.
Each story is very different. What process did you use to ensure these unique concepts and approaches fit together into a cohesive package?
That’s the risk with an anthology, right? You ask people to write a thing and then you’re going to be worried they don’t end up matching. But what was magical about this grouping of authors is that as they came in, each story felt special. For example, it was really special to get in my in box a brand-new short story by M.T. Anderson knowing that no one else had read it. Then I knew Anna-Marie McLemore’s story would go first because it just felt right, while M.T. Anderson’s story was going to go at the end. So they did just seem to go together in a cohesive way. I reordered them only twice. I feel like all of the authors brought the concept in different ways that seem to click together like Legos.
You and your fellow authors bring a sense of playfulness when it comes to subverting storytelling conventions. Did you set out with this goal in mind?
Yes. I think that part of being subversive is being defiant. One of my favorite quotes by me, which sounds weird, is, “be defiantly creative.” This is what I asked my authors to do, to be defiantly creative and act like there are no rules. So I absolutely had this goal in mind. I’m going to call it the surrealist method, which is not trying so hard, and allowing the weird stuff to come out. It was my way of asking those authors to free that little weirdo inside of them. And man, did they show up.
I also really enjoyed how we could be both playful and serious at the same time. Because that’s what life is—you have to be playful during the difficult times and continue to be your weird self and embrace it. It’s a strange mix, but I like that the stories can be serious while there’s fun inside the book, too.
The Collectors: Stories, edited by A.S. King. Dutton, $19.99 Sept. 19 ISBN 978-0-593-62028-1