LUMINA Journal in Conversation with BASS 2018: Part One

Author photos from respective author’s website.

Author photos from respective author’s website.

My obsession with Best American Short Stories (BASS) began when I read “Unsafe at Any Speed” by Laura Lee Smith from the 2015 anthology, edited by T.C. Boyle. In BASS, I was exposed to an echo-chamber of contemporary American fiction; stories that span a variety of styles, forms and perspectives. When I heard Roxane Gay guest-edited Best American Short Stories 2018, I knew immediately that LUMINA needed to hear more about her perspective on this experience with such an exciting project. This then grew into a collection of brief interviews with, almost, every BASS contributor in the anthology.

This week, LUMINA Journal will release conversations with BASS 2018 contributors, where readers can get to know the writers of this project a little better.

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Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, The New York Times best-selling Bad Feminist, the nationally best-selling Difficult Women and The New York Times best-selling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.

LUMINA Journal: Tell me about your journey as an editor. You’ve worn this hat many times before, with Not That Bad, as well as editing for magazines and other literary journals. As a best-selling author for multiple books, how does your editorial process differ from your writing process?

Roxane Gay: I have been editing for more than ten years. I actually first got a taste of editing when I was an editorial assistant at Prairie Schooner nearly 20 years ago. I enjoyed reading submissions and realized I wanted to do it more. I co-edited PANK for many years, and that is where the bulk of my editorial experience lies. My editorial process is fairly similar to my writing process in that I am trying to find interesting writing that says interesting things conveyed in an interesting voice.

LJ:  How did you feel when you were asked to edit the 2018 Edition of Best American Short Stories, and how does it feel to not only create something, but help mold a piece of artwork into its final form?

RG: I was thrilled when I was asked to edit BASS 2018. As a writer, having a story appear in that anthology was one of my fiercest ambitions. It is even more exciting to get to choose the 20 stories that appear in the collection. I didn't edit any of the stories for this anthology, as that's not how it works. In a ‘best of’ anthology, you're selecting from already published work.

LJ: Tell me about your decision-making process for this anthology. I imagine each piece was beautifully crafted and deserving of the nomination for BASS 2018. How were you able to conquer those short stories, and how did you manage to say “no” to certain ones?

RG: I was looking for stories that stayed with me, that I found myself thinking about for hours and then days after I read them. I wanted stories that moved me and shocked me and made me uncomfortable.

I received 120 stories in two batches over the course of nine months. I also read stories I found on my own. I then winnowed down those 120 stories until I had the 20 stories I loved the most.   

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”?

RG: The story that stays with me most is “Boys Go to Jupiter” by Danielle Evans. I remain simply stunned by the story, its intricacies, all of it.

LJ: I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of BASS 2018, and I couldn’t put it down. Everything in this edition is well-crafted: the foreword from Heidi Pitlor, your introduction that discusses your goal of diversifying this edition, and the stories you selected—with an emphasis on those from smaller journals. What is your advice to those who want to make a change in both the world and this industry, but are afraid to or don’t know how?

RG: People need to stop waiting for experience and know how, when it comes to creating change. Sometimes, you have to learn as you go. A lot of creating change, particularly where diversity is concerned, is simple common sense combined with vigorous and sustained institutional and financial support.

LJ: Would you like to let our readers know what you’re working on now?

RG: I'm working on several different projects, including a new comic series called The Banks, a YA novel, a writing advice book and a screenplay.

LJ: Is there anything you want to add about this edition of BASS?

RG: It's powerful, intelligent, and moving. Check it out.

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Visit the Lumina Journal blog tomorrow to learn more about the BASS 2018 contributors!

Interview by LUMINA Journal’s Executive Editor, Qassye Hall.