What We’re Reading: Anthologies, Part 2
American Tensions: Literature of Identity and the Search for Social Justice, edited by William Reichard, published by New Village Press.
This anthology is a great one for those looking to read stellar established writers with solid material. Poetry, fiction, and nonfiction are all here. I spent a lot of time with the editor’s introduction, since the editor’s voice is such an integral part of reading anthologies. Reichard can get a bit lofty with the goals he lays out for the anthology, but overall, his introduction provides clarity of his passionate vision and framework.
Divided into three sections, the anthology sets out to cover the complex web of American identity. The pieces in section one, called “The Lives We’re Given, The Lives We Make,” speak to familial relationships, both newly-found and crumbling, through class, economic status, and race. Section two, “That Which Holds Us Together, That Which Pulls Us Apart,” covers the American “ideal,” alongside the history of social justice in our country. The idiosyncrasies behind our always-shifting national identity crop up in these selections. Section three, “Landscapes with Figures: Human Experience in the Natural World,” focuses on the relationship between humans and nature, and the fragility of that relationship.
I enjoyed the format of the anthology. Each section begins with a short summary from Reichard of what that section explores, but then leaves the rest of the divining to the reader. The selections are top-notch, and create a sense of a complicated, fragmented identity, yet flow well next to each other. Many familiar, fantastic (and some local) writers have found their way into the anthology: Louise Erdrich, Patricia Smith, Eric Gansworth, Deborah Keenan, D.A. Powell, and Ed Bok Lee, among others. There were only a few new discoveries for me, such as poet Nickole Brown, whose haunting and physical poetry propels the reader forward through generations of experience.
Section one, favorite piece: “Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich
Section two, favorite piece: “Grocery Shopping with My Girlfriend Who Is Not Asian” by Kristin Naca
Section three, favorite piece: “continental divide” by D.A. Powell
The anthology sets out to fulfill the grand purpose of creating an honest snapshot of contemporary American identity. I think it achieves that purpose. It’s a relatively small, selective anthology, but very insightful. It doesn’t take many chances with new writers, but it is obviously carefully curated. Most importantly, it encouraged me to engage with the text in new ways, even with work that I had read before.
What do you look for in an anthology? New writers, or familiar faces? How much does the editor’s voice mean to you?