Editors Comment on Changes Planned for Best American Fantasy

The Best American Fantasy series has undergone a series of important changes, starting with the publisher. Underland Press has acquired BAF and will publish the third volume, Real Unreal, in January of 2010. Real Unreal will contain work by, among others, Stephen King, Lisa Goldstein, Peter S. Beagle, and John Kessel, as chosen by guest editor Kevin Brockmeier with assistance from series editor Matthew Cheney.

This will be the final volume to be edited by Cheney, whose duties as series editor will be taken up by co-founders Ann and Jeff VanderMeer in future volumes. Cheney will remain in an advisory capacity to the VanderMeers, who previously served as guest editors for volumes one and two of the series.
Jeff VanderMeer is excited about the future of the series.

“Going forward, it will be great to assist the new guest editors in realizing their own visions for their years. Best American Fantasy is the only fantasy ‘year’s best’ that has a different editor every year selecting the stories,” said VanderMeer. “That keeps the series fresh and relevant, while negating traditional hierarchies and ideas of privilege within genre. No one set of tastes can rule for more than one year.”

Privilege and bias have been hot topics of discussion in recent years—especially when it comes to anthologies. Cheney said that diversity in the BAF series begins with the kind of literature considered for inclusion.

“In terms of diversity, one of the approaches that helps us is the diversity of our sources-we are not looking for stories only from one literary subculture, and each year we get different people to do the looking.  The recent arguments within the SF community (some of which I’ve participated in, so I’m not unbiased here) have primarily been about severe gender imbalances in many anthologies and about increasing inclusion of writers who are not just straight white guys, because given the historical and social power that straight white guys have had in the world of writing and publishing, they’re the default, and that’s no good for anybody, including straight white guys,” said Cheney. “We haven’t had, in my memory, any conversations about this among the guest editors, but our track record, particularly with gender, is pretty good so far, mostly because we’re looking at so many different kinds of publications—a lack of diversity in a table of contents is, I think, often the result of too narrow a reading focus.  Future volumes of BAF, though, make a concerted effort to undermine the idea of straight white guys as the default. Our next editors are Minister Faust, Junot Diaz, and Catherynne Valente, and we’ve finally got the resources to do something we’d hoped to do from the beginning: add Latin American fiction to our purview.”

According to Cheney, future volumes of the series will consider stories published in English in Latin American publications, as well as translations of Latin American writers into English in North American publications. The editors also eventually hope to consider material published in Spanish and Portuguese.

With fiction from multiple genres being considered for inclusion, one might be curious as to what properly constitutes “fantasy.” Volume three guest editor Kevin Brockmeier’s choices were informed by an eclecticism that is thoroughly in keeping with the BAF series.

“I’m attracted to the distinction Samuel Delany draws in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw when he says that a naturalistic story is one about which we would say, ‘This could have happened,’ while a fantastic story is one about which we would say, ‘This could not have happened,’ a definition that has the advantage of being elastic enough to contain just about everything we mean when we talk about fantasy. Beyond that I have only my own personal taste to offer,” said Brockmeier. “I’ll confess, for instance, that Tolkien is not an author to whom I gravitate—Borges said of him, ‘I think of him as rambling on and on,’ and, ‘The problem with Lord of the Rings is that you’re left outside the book,’ to which my thoughts are yes, and yes—but I love Philip Pullman and Kelly Link and Italo Calvino and Angelica Gorodischer and Tim Pratt and any number of other fantasy writers who have published with both genre and literary presses. What I selected for the anthology, then, were the twenty this-could-not-have-happened stories that happened to speak most strongly to my own predilections, predilections which I tried to examine in the book’s introduction, which you can find at the Underland Press site. A few of the stories seemed to present the option of reading their fantastic elements as either legitimate occurrences or delusions on the part of the protagonist, and I can tell you that when that happened I chose to interpret them as authentic fantasy rather than some form of schizophrenic naturalism.”

It was Brockmeir’s fiction that led to his position as guest editor, according to Ann VanderMeer. 

“Kevin had a story in BAF1 that I loved, and between that and his amazing novel I thought he would have the right sensibilities to edit BAF—that he got it, because his fiction is truly fantastical and truly American,” said Ann VanderMeer.

For more about the Best American Fantasy three, including a list of this year’s stories, visit http://www.bestamericanfantasy.com.

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