World Fantasy Report #2: Canonical Fantasy--Genre Fiction & The Libraryof America

This was a fascinating panel at World Fantasy.  I've never heard of The Library of America. I actually never got a clear definition of it, although after attending the panel, I suspect the might be responsible for several of the large anthologies I had to lug around as an English student. Their tag line is "America's Best and Most Significant Writing in Durable and Authoritative Editions." Apparently, when they produce a volume, the writings and/or author become recognized as being part of canonized literature. To be in a Library of America book is to have legitimacy in the eyes of academics.

Anyway, the panel discussion was led by Peter Straub. Also on the panel were Brain Evenson, S.T. Joshi, Tim Powers, and Gary K. Wolfe.

*Note:  This post is based on the notes I took during the panel. I am paraphrasing. If I mis-state of mis-quote someone, please know it is not intentional. If you let me know, I'll fix the mistake. My opinion are in parentheses.*

Peter Straub had the honor of putting together a two volume collection of "American Fantastic Tales." He recounted many of his adventures in putting together this collection, which took about 2 years. It was fascinating to listen to him.

First off, he was told: no science fiction, no fantasy. (In a collection called American Fantastic Tales. Go figure. I suppose us sf/f writers are the elephant in the room certain intelluctuals don't want to acknowledge.) So basically, the stories in the collection fall into the horror category.

He did run into some challenges with authors and publishers. Some authors wanted too much money for their stories, and some publishers just plain refused to sell reprint rights. Sometimes he couldn't get his hands on the original publications, because some owners of old magazines weren't willing to share.

Straub would have liked the collection to be twice as long, but he was limited to 800 pages in each volune. He also had to undergo intense negotiations with the Library of America board. If they decided they didn't like a story, there wasn't much he could to keep them from discluding it. Although he did say the meetings often resembled "horse trades," where Straub really had to fight for those stories and writers he felt were so important to the genre.

The collection has stories published up through 2007 -- the most current of any stories to be found in LOA collections.

Here are some of the fascinating quotes I was able to jot down during the panel:

"Defining a canon is not the same as choosing canonical stories." -- Gary K. Wolfe.

"Seriousness need not be negated by introduction of the fantastic [to literature]" -- Peter Straub.