In recent years, a rising number of both fiction and nonfiction anthologies have been published for the young adult audience, capitalizing on the format’s accessibility and its unique capacity to allow for a variety of voices and perspectives to be featured within one volume. We spoke with the editors of five recently published and forthcoming anthologies for teens about the origin of their collections, how they built their lists of contributors, and their hopes for these volumes as they reach readers.
A spark of an idea
For anthology editors Laura Silverman and Dahlia Adler, previous experience collaborating with their YA author peers led to their respective projects. Silverman, who had collaborated with Katherine Locke on It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories, was eager to embark on another cooperative endeavor after realizing she “could get paid to work with talented people and just read their stories” while creating an anthology. The concept for Up All Night: 13 Stories Between Sunrise and Sunset (Algonquin, July) was inspired by the magic of the hours after parents and other adults are tucked in bed but teens are still awake.
“Every single teenager has had something important happen during those midnight hours,” Silverman says. “The world gets quiet, and things that would never happen in the daytime are suddenly possible. You can be someone else and explore new things.”
Adler, the editor of the recently published That Way Madness Lies: 15 of Shakespeare’s Most Notable Works Reimagined (Flatiron), had previously edited an anthology focused on Edgar Allan Poe. After seeing the success of His Hideous Heart: 13 Stories of Edgar Allan Poe’s Most Unsettling Tales Reimagined, including its use in classrooms and libraries, she sensed an opportunity to create another anthology highlighting a widely read and studied author. She landed on Shakespeare, whom she dubbed an “obvious choice.”
For others, a drive to subvert the stereotyping, misunderstanding, and vilification of their cultures and bodies was the genesis of their collections. Both PW StarWatch honoree Saraciea J. Fennell, editor of Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora (Flatiron, Sept.), and Margarita Longoria, editor of Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America (Philomel, Aug.), say the rhetoric and actions of the previous administration moved them to push back.
“I was an English teacher for years and I’m a librarian now,” Longoria notes. “So I’ve always loved books and feel books can change things, and provide an opportunity to learn about other people and cultures.” She aimed to create an anthology for teens that highlighted the beauty of Mexican and Mexican American culture, showing that Mexican people are not violent and ignorant, as many anti-immigrant politicians suggest, but are a “good, strong, and proud people with much to offer.” For Longoria, creating this collection was a way for “one little person to fight back through something she knows: books.”
Similarly, Fennell was disheartened and disturbed by the previous administration’s denigration. “I thought, how can we, the Latinx community, combat this and show that we aren’t this way?” she says. “How can we share our truths while subverting stereotypes?” At the same time, she realized that there is not a lot of nonfiction in the YA space that features Latinx writers from the diaspora, particularly Black Latinx writers, which she found important to address.
Cassandra Newbould, editor of Every Body Shines: Sixteen Stories About Living Fabulously Fat (Bloomsbury, June), had just finished writing her middle grade novel, Fat Like Me, and was considering starting a podcast when the idea of an anthology occurred to her. “When I was a teenager, the only books I found that featured a relatable fat character treated that character horribly,” she says, recalling the Sweet Valley High books. “The poor girl was running across the track most of the book, just so she would be accepted by people.” She realized that she wanted to create an intersectional anthology because “fat is not a monolith and, all too often, the stories that are published focus on straight, cis, white main characters.” Instead she wanted to show “all the ways fat bodies thrive while fighting against the world,” where “none of the characters change themselves to fit the narrative, but rather change the narrative to fit them.”
Building an A-team
Newbould was nervous when she began reaching out to potential contributors for Every Body Shines, unsure whether anyone would want to participate or have a story to tell. “Too often the world is telling [fat people] to keep our stories to ourselves, but to break out of that mindset is a freeing thing,” she says. “Sometimes it can be intimidating and scary, but the moment you start putting the words down, the dam breaks and you realize these are the stories you’ve been wanting to tell your whole life.”
Newbould approached Rebecca Sky first, whose response was overwhelmingly positive. She continued from there, asking for stories that came from the contributors’ hearts to create a collection that shows how distinct individual experiences can be, while making a concerted effort to be inclusive of people who live or have lived the fat experience—from the contributors to the editor to the cover illustrator. The other thing that ties the stories together, she says, is that “every protagonist finds their shine in the end. Some have it from the beginning, and others don’t find it until the last page, but it’s there.”
To build her contributor list for Up All Night, Silverman decided to, appropriately, “shoot for the stars,” asking authors whose writing she knew and admired while being mindful to include writers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. “You want to be sure you consider representation while being aware that, to sell an anthology, you need names that pack a bit of a punch,” Silverman says. “And those authors are highly in demand, of course.” She kept the submission guidelines open-ended but asked contributors to send pitches so as to avoid any direct overlap of plot or trope and to ensure a balance in tone.
Similarly, Fennell says she put a lot of thought and care into choosing the contributors, to be certain that young readers would be able to see themselves in the stories. “There is a lack of diverse Latinx voices out there,” she says. “I was very conscious of that as I curated Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed and, though it was hard not to include some people, it all came down to presenting a list of contributors who could address various stereotypes while writing about identity, racism, queerness, belonging, anti-Blackness, and finding oneself within the Latinx community.”
Adler says that for her, selecting contributors was a bit of a “mixed bag,” with some authors, like Lily Anderson and Anna-Marie McLemore, being “clear choices because they had already done Shakespeare reimaginings,” but other picks were more unexpected. Striving to balance comedies and tragedies, Adler asked each contributor which original Shakespeare work they would like to retell, then recalibrated which writer she would ask next to deliver what she felt was lacking. “If someone surprised me by saying they were going to do a comedy when I assumed they would choose a tragedy, I would then reach out to someone I thought would do a comedy,” she recalls. “In some cases, I had to give authors very few choices to ensure the stories I felt were most important to have in the collection, based on what is commonly read in schools, were represented.”
“I think collections are a great way to get to know new authors,” Adler says. “High school kids have so much reading to do, so, if you’re going to read for pleasure or a teacher is going to pair a young adult text with a classic text, it feels much more accessible and realistic for that to be short-form.” She also notes that a short story anthology is a great way to see different ways of interpreting and approaching a classic text. Anthologies allow for the exploration of various genres, and they also provide an opportunity to look through a variety of lenses.
“Most of Poe’s stories, for example, feature white, male narrators, but there are no white, male narrators in His Hideous Heart,” Adler says. “An anthology works well to update these stories and make them feel more relevant to a modern audience while showing how you can work creatively with text.” She hopes that educators embrace this new collection, “because there are some kids who are always going to struggle with Shakespeare because it isn’t accessible and relevant to everyone.” She believes these retellings can help change that and allow readers of all experiences to feel seen.
Adler has been thrilled to hear readers say This Way Madness Lies is ideal for readers who have a tumultuous relationship with Shakespeare, and she hopes the book continues to find exactly those readers. “If you love Shakespeare, it’s fascinating to see the ways these stories build on the original,” she says. “If you don’t like Shakespeare, this collection gives inroads to appreciate the original text in a different way. And, if you have a love-hate relationship with his work, you’ll find that many of the stories reimagine things you may have taken issue with in the original and show it through a different lens that allows you to appreciate the work more fully.”
Newbould, Longoria, and Fennell hope to change hearts and minds by tapping into the accessibility of the anthology form and its ability to expose readers to voices and perspectives traditionally underrepresented and unheard.
“From the beginning, I created For Every Body for the kids that danced in the shadows because they were taught to hide themselves,” Newbould says. “I want this book to tell every reader that it is okay to take up space, now, today. You don’t have to wait, regardless of your journey in the future.” In this collection about finding one’s strength and power, the stories feature fully realized fat characters on journeys of “self-discovery, self-reflection, and self-recognition” of the internalized and external fatphobia they experience and that magical moment when they find “their true selves.”
With contributions that elicit joy and pieces that prompt readers to reckon with their own beliefs and perspectives, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed “will be an eye-opener,” Fennell says, for anyone who has “ever wondered about Latinx cultures you don’t often hear about, or how the Latinx community is navigating whiteness, Blackness, and racism within our own community.”
Longoria hopes that Growing Up Beyond Borders will have a similar impact, validating those who identify as Mexican and Mexican American while allowing all readers to see her Mexican and Mexican American community as individuals with families and friends, good days and bad days, and triumphs and losses, just like everyone else. “We love just like everyone else. We love our own culture and other cultures, too; we are not the ugly people others make us out to be,” she says. “I am humbled and grateful that we are able to give this book to the world at this time.”
Sara Grochowski is a youth librarian and writer in Michigan.