The Anthologist: A Compendium of Uncommon Collections

From the July/August 2024 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Among the many new books published each season is a shelf full of notable anthologies, each one showcasing the work of writers united by genre, form, or theme. The Anthologist highlights two recently released or forthcoming collections, including Best of the Rust Belt.

After COVID-19 put life on hold, social-media doomscrolling became an even more popular pastime than it already was. But Gabe Fowler, the owner of Desert Island, a comic-book store in Brooklyn, New York, saw the opportunity to train digital attention beyond the gloom. On April 1, 2020, Fowler took to Instagram to ask artists to share one-page comics that envisioned “a utopian world after we survive this moment.” The prompt yielded hundreds of submissions by professional and amateur cartoonists from more than fifty countries. Originally posted to Desert Island’s Instagram account, one hundred forty of the comics sent in response to Fowler’s call now appear in print. Rescue Party: A Graphic Anthology of COVID Lockdown (Pantheon, July 2024) charts bold fantasies about post-pandemic days in wildly ranging imagery and colors, from simple doodles to intricate designs, from psychedelic neon to stark black and white. Cartoonist Clare McCarthy of Philadelphia, for example, envisions a future in which permanent, full-face masking has spurred everyone to quit smoking; Zygmunt Stiasny of Warsaw, Poland, pictures an end to “desperate decisions,” a phrase that appears under a drawing of a noose; Amara QUQU of Santiago, Chile, predicts the ability to “project rainbow thoughts.” These and other comics in Rescue Party serve as “a reminder that in the struggle for better times, for political and social transformation, one needs to be able to imagine what one wants,” comics scholar Hillary Chute writes in her foreword to the book, which is edited by Fowler. “This [imaginary] domain is integral as a form of planning and motivation—you have to be able to see a more just world before you can actualize it.”  

A little more than a decade ago in Cleveland, editor Anne Trubek founded Belt Publishing with the aim of spotlighting authors from the Midwestern Rust Belt, where the loss of industries like steelmaking and automobile manufacturing during the second half of the twentieth century ravaged once thriving economies. For writers in the region, that meant further marginalization in a literary ecosystem that has long centered coastal hubs like New York City. But in a series of critically acclaimed anthologies and other books featuring voices from Cleveland; Gary, Indiana; Saint Louis; and beyond, Belt Publishing made a case for the Rust Belt as a hotbed of urgent storytelling. Standout essays from more than a dozen of those volumes can now be read together in Best of the Rust Belt (Belt Publishing, July 2024), in which readers will find selections about a historic gay bar in Detroit, mass transit in Pittsburgh, the “ghosts” of a labor-march-turned-massacre in late nineteenth century Milwaukee, and coming of age as a writer in 1990s Chicago—among dozens of other dispatches. In her introduction, Anna Clark, who edited Belt Publishing’s 2014 A Detroit Anthology, cautions against reading Best of the Rust Belt, edited by Trubek, as “a glib sort of regional boosterism.” Rather, it offers an “aptly democratic” sense of place through multiple perspectives, temperaments, and tastes. “The [anthology] form suits the purpose of interrogating our lives as they are lived alongside others,” Clark writes. “Notice where you find the electric shock of recognition: the feeling of seeing and being seen, sometimes when you least expect it. In all the prickly and precious ways, this book feels like home.”