Writers on Writing: Mitali Perkins/Anthologies

Anthologies are collections of works from different authors. Mitali Perkins recently worked on the anthology Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices, so I thought she’d be good to interview about anthologies. She was perfect!

Why are anthologies important to children’s literature?

Mitali_PerkinsTwo reasons. First, they showcase different voices and introduce us to authors who might be new to us. In this sense, they are like the tastes we get as we wander the Costco aisles that lead to lifelong addictions. Second, they provide an antidote to the “danger of single story.” Many voices telling many stories is exactly what we need when all of us make mistakes. Anthologies and their shared authorship provide a safer communal space for each of us to keep pushing the envelope, write bravely, and take risks, especially in fiction.

If you were on an award committee that was set up to recognize the year’s best anthologies, for what elements would you look?

Great question. My answer to this relates to my answer to the first question you asked. I’d look for anthologies that lead the reader to want more from many of the authors as well as one that addresses one tricky theme or topic from many different perspectives.

What did you most enjoy about creating the anthology, Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices?

It helped me to appreciate the brilliance of my editors. Editing is so hard. I am not a natural editor; I’m a writer with a unique voice and vision. It was tough not to override the contributors’ voices with my own. It was hard to ask them to revise. I discovered I didn’t like editing much and was glad when I could go back to being edited. On the other hand, I got to work with a bunch of brilliant authors, and it doesn’t get better than that.

What are some of your favorite anthologies?

I love poetry anthologies. Two of my longstanding favorites are Good Poems for Hard Times, edited by Garrison Keillor and Talking Like the Rain: A Read-to-Me Book of Poems by X. J. Kennedy and Dorothy M. Kennedy. 

What do you have coming next?

Borderlines, a YA novel about growing up between cultures, comes out in 2017 from Macmillan/FSG and Gifts for Abuela is a picture book about Christmas on the California/Mexico border coming in 2018 from Macmillan/FSG. But this year, Candlewick is releasing Open Mic in Paperback on August 23, and that’s exciting because the voices in the book might reach a whole new audience.

Mitali Perkins has written nine novels for young readers, including Rickshaw Girl (chosen by the New York Public Library as one of the top 100 books for children in the past 100 years) and Bamboo People (an American Library Association’s Top Ten Novels for Young Adults, starred in Publishers Weekly as “a graceful exploration of the redemptive power of love, family, and friendship.”) Her newest novel, Tiger Boy, is a Junior Library Guild selection.


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