THE ART OF THE ANTHOLOGY
Having created fifteen Wising Up Anthologies in the last twelve years, I realized that I have never shared some of my thoughts about the art of the anthology, especially our Wising Up Anthologies. I use the word create intentionally. I don't see our anthologies as a simple compilation around a popular theme. For me, the themes are personally significant, they are guiding questions, existential ones, shared as part of that letter to the world that did not write to me. The lovely thing is that by putting those questions out there, we attract other letters written in solitude and get to read them and be changed by them. That experience, the reading, the experiencing the same question from different perspectives, the unexpected answers—or additional questions—that arise, this intimate but inclusive, open-ended conversation is the essence of the anthology. We've said that in selecting submissions we listen for the ring of authenticity, the sound of someone speaking honestly about something they personally need to understand. Something that we too need to understand.
The next step, for me, is to sit there with all these poems, memoirs, and stories that have that ring, that have made Charles and I look up from our reading and nod simultaneously. Just sit, staring at our list until the patterns rise. A moment comes when I feel the constellation, what stories, ways of seeing, echo or challenge each other in ways that surprise me, that open further that guiding question about the nature of repair or creativity, or immigration and belonging, or the meaning of illness or joy, provide new frames of understanding. This moment always feels like the most surprising gift.
We want our readers to be able to read straight through the book. To have to some extent the experience I had looking at that list, receiving the patterns. What is the sequence, the pace, the recursiveness, that makes us, when we finish, feel that we have achieved some greater clarity and also feel the question is one we can return to, bring into our own life with greater confidence, knowing we're not alone?
We also want our readers, when they finish, not to feel that everything has been said, or said so well, they can't add their own unique contribution to the conversation. At the same time, we want the whole to have the aesthetic power that comes from the integrity of the whole, a combination of narrative flow and intellectual structure.
We have always used photographs in our anthologies. My photographs. This wasn't an intentional decision at the beginning, but we found that having a single vision for the photographs creates a tonal cohesion—and also a counterpoint to the writing. We want a reader, picking up the book and flipping through the pages, to get through the images an affective feel for the intellectual movement of the book. In general, I start making these photographs around the same time we start reading the submissions for the call, so the images are resonating with the patterns that are appearing and that will guide the structure of the book. Sometimes, I'll return to images taken in other situations and times and see them anew through the distinctive lens of this particular anthology.
Why books? Because there is time and touch built into a book—and an invitation to uninterrupted reflection. We want people to pause, return. To hear themselves into the kind of speech that isn't designed to persuade or dissuade, rather to bring us into connection with something deep in us that is wiser, tougher, and more tender. Something that inspires us to explore, not hold forth. We want to offer writers a way of thinking and talking about their work that is about why we really write—to bear witness to the wonder—the more-than—of existence. We want readers to feel they have something crucial to add to that experience of witness.
— Heather Tosteson