LUMINA Journal in Conversation with BASS 2018: Final Installment
To get the chance to interview so many authors for this year’s anthology has been a dream for the LUMINA team. Each interview is full of insight on the creation of each story, how the process has affected each author, and how the overall process of making the anthology has affected its production team.
On a personal note, this experience means so much to me considering how much of my writer’s life I have spent reading The Best American Short Stories anthologies. So, on behalf of LUMINA Journal, we cannot thank Roxane Gay, Heidi Pitlor, and all the BASS 2018 contributors enough for giving their time to answer our questions for these two installments. What a privilege it has been. Thank you.
You can find links to LUMINA Journal in Conversation with BASS 2018: Part Eight here.
Heidi Pitlor is the author of the novels The Birthdays and The Daylight Marriage. A former senior editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she has been the series editor of The Best American Short Stories since 2007. Her writing has been published in Ploughshares, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art, Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, and elsewhere. She currently teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Regis University in Denver. She lives with her twin daughter and son and her husband outside Boston and is currently working on her third novel.
LUMINA Journal: How many BASS anthologies have you worked with so far, and what role do you play when selecting the guest-editor for each anthology?
Heidi Pitlor: I've been the series editor for twelve anthologies, thirteen if you count 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories. I select the guest editor for each anthology, although I do get the go-ahead from my editor and publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) beforehand.
LJ: In your foreword, you mention that you have been an avid reader of The Best American Short Stories since undergrad. Can you elaborate about what attracted you to dedicate much of your time and love to this anthology?
HP: I suppose I began reading the anthology when I began to fall in love with reading and writing, which was rather late in the game. (I admit I wasn't an English major—rather, political science.) The anthology was a great chance to explore so many different voices and styles and characters in one place, kind of a crash course in contemporary fiction. I didn't consciously devote myself to this anthology—after undergrad, I worked at restaurants, nannied, and did various jobs that had little to do with fiction reading or writing. I did play around with writing on the side, though. I got my MFA a few years later and got a job as a temp at Houghton. Soon after, I was hired as an editorial assistant, and soon after that, I got to oversee The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Essays, which meant that I helped pick the guest editors and handled the administrative aspects of the books. I became an acquiring editor, and after many years, my husband and I wanted to start a family, so a more part-time job made sense. I was offered the series editor job in 2006 (for the 2007 volume), and given my love of fiction and my past overseeing the anthology in-house, I happily said "yes."
LJ: What was the production of BASS 2018 like? Were there many edits before having the final, physical copy in hand?
HP: I read thousands of published short stories every year and choose 120 to send along to my guest editor. The guest editor chooses 20 to appear in the book. Sometimes I do small edits of the front or back matter (the intro, the contributor notes, and the bios), but usually very few. It's a tight production schedule and everything moves very quickly. This is in large part thanks to my incredibly competent editor, Nicole Angeloro.
LJ: Which story out of the twenty do you find yourself thinking about now that this is all over? Which story carried the most emotion or “the hardest punch”?
HP: I never admit this. To me, doing so would feel like naming a favorite child. And this is corny, but true: every story is in the book for a reason. Each story carries emotion and punch—especially this year.
LJ: When the final copy of BASS 2018 was in hand, how did it feel to have completed it?
HP: I'm always excited to hold a finished book in my hands. I'm always especially excited for the new authors whose work appears in the pages. This year features some hugely talented newer writers: Maria Anderson, Jamel Brinkley, Yoon Choi, Alicia Elliot, Ann Glaviano, Jacob Guajardo, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, Kristen Iskandrian, Matthew Lyons, Dina Nayeri, Amy Silverberg, Rivers Solomon.
LJ: Again, in your forward, you point out that people have invited you to "leave politics out of your writing." What advice do you have for young people who write with activist ideals in mind, or who are activists themselves? Young people who want to change the world and push against the "social norm"?
HP: Try to be yourself—and to be humble, inclusive, respectful. Try to find humor in dark times, to be as supportive as possible of other writers, to shop at indie bookstores, give shout-outs to other people often, and finally, try to read lots of work that speaks to you. (The mom in me says this: spend time in nature, get enough sleep, and be good to your mother.)
LJ: Would you like to let our readers know what you’re working on now?
HP: My third novel. I also teach at a low-res MFA program (at Regis University in Denver), am a mom to fabulous 12-year-old twins, spend too much time on Twitter, consult, and too many other things.
LJ: Is there anything you want to add about this edition of BASS?
HP: I was hugely proud to read the review from Kirkus, which called the book, “literature of resistance... uniformly high quality." This year is not for the faint of heart. To me, that is high praise.
Visit the LUMINA Journal blog to read all about BASS 2018 contributors!
Interview by LUMINA’s Executive Editor, Qassye Hall.