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Considering ‘The Young American Writers’ anthology, fifty-five years later.


ON THE FIRST of January 1967, Funk & Wagnalls, the venerable dictionary publisher, issued, during its short-lived trade adventure, an anthology edited by me titled The Young American Writers. The contents were my selections from the poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism of literary writers born after 1935 and thus aged thirty-one or less in the year of the book’s publication. As far as I can tell, it was the first anthology devoted exclusively to Americans below a certain age. This fact surprises me, as the move was editorially obvious. The following year appeared a much bigger book, The Young American Poets, edited by Paul Carroll, a Chicago poet who was more than a dozen years older than me and thus most of his contributors. Though several anthologies of younger American writers have appeared since, none known to me has mentioned either the Paul Carroll book or mine.

My purpose was establishing that younger Americans were producing literature, contrary to the myth popular at the time among older literary pundits that brighter young people were instead making pop music or Hollywood films. That truth is now indisputable.

What amazes me now is that most of my 38 contributors had distinguished literary careers. Among those still publishing a half-century later were Louise Glück, R. H. W. Dilllard, Joyce Carol Oates, Ed Sanders, Jerome Charyn, Robert Boyers, Kenneth Gangemi, Kenneth King, Michael Heller, Frank Chin, Jonathan Cott, David Shapiro, Renata Adler, and Robin Morgan. Were they still alive, my contributors Tom Clark, Dick Higgins, Ronald Tavel, Lewis Warsh, William Melvin Kelly, John Perreault, Arno Karlen, and Bill Berkson would still be publishing as well. (Michael L. Glenn, here a fiction writer, had, by contrast, a unique later career as a founding publisher of two profoundly alternative publications: The Radical Therapist and Rough Times.) Thomas Pynchon I wanted to include, with his seminal “Entropy” story (1960), but his agent would have broken my piggy bank. Dare I claim, several decades later, that my selection constitutes a strong record of survival for any anthology of new writers.

Perhaps because Paul Carroll’s included more people (at 54) and then only poets, less than half of his writers are visible now. The principal virtue of his anthology (for me) was including more innovative figures such as Vito Hannibal Acconci, Clark Coolidge, Ronald Johnson, Saint Gerard (aka Bill Knott), and Aram Saroyan. Only eight writers appeared in both books: Berkson, Cott, Gluck, Perreault, Aldan van Buskirk, Warsh, and me. Among Carroll’s writers (born after 1935) who should have appeared in mine, in my judgment now, were Acconci, Coolidge, Saroyan, and Anne Waldman.

Both Carroll and myself resisted attributing to our writers a common esthetic stance and, in this respect, we differed from, say, Ezra Pound’s Des Imagists (1914). Or even a common background, such as a geographical residence or university writing programs. One problem common to both our books was that our authors appear in alphabetical order, which is a fault common in many first-time anthologies whose editors failed to consider producing a more cunning sequence with its own intelligence. In my book collecting my writings, On Anthologies (2017), I identify more examples of such editorial thoughtlessness.

The common opinion at the time was that Carroll’s anthology had more literary presence than mine, perhaps because he took the trouble to organize public readings around the country by his participating poets. I suppose that both were hated at the time by writers who thought they should have been included, especially if they were personally known to the editors. Both anthologies are still available from antiquarian booksellers at reasonable prices. That is, I suppose, the current measure of being “in print,” even though the original publishers of both books are long gone.

May I look forward to reading critical reconsiderations of later anthologies of yet younger American writers, especially to read if they identify issues that I missed here.

Richard Kostelanetz is an American artist, poet, critic, and essayist. Individual entries on his work in several fields appear in various editions of Readers Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers, Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature, Contemporary Poets, Contemporary Novelists, Postmodern Fiction, Webster’s Dictionary of American Writers, The HarperCollins Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Directory of American Scholars, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in American Art,, and, among other distinguished directories. He was the editor of Assembling and is the author of many books. Otherwise, he survives in New York, where he was born.

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