Last Thursday night, I had the privilege of being a part of the celebration for Josh Woods’s new VERSUS Anthology. The party wasn’t in NYC, and neither Paris nor Perez nor Page Six were in in attendance. Josh developed his totally fresh anthology idea when he was teaching at SIU’s Young Writers Workshop last year and debuted it at this year’s conference. Think classic enemies pitted in deathly conflict: Barbie vs. Stalin, Jesus vs. Thor, Kyle Minor vs. Else Richter(his terrifying 5th grade teacher), Orgo vs. The Flatlanders, and My Father vs. The Soap Lady.
The stories and essays are, by turns, wildly funny, horrifying, bizarre, and deeply affecting. And I’m not just saying that because my piece, Love vs. Lust, is included.
What I love about this anthology is its amazingly diverse elements: Orgo and Kyle Minor vs. Else Richter resemble comics, My Father vs. the Soap Lady is a horror story at its heart, Arthur Miller vs. Joe DiMaggio is a play and Margaret MacMullan’s moving piece “Wrestling with Andy Kaufman” is non-fiction.
But even more fun was hearing the teenagers in the audience react to the work. This was no dry reading of delicate personal stories or inaccessible prose. The Versus stories are fairly raw and raucous, the kind of stories that are way too risky for the likes of traditional outlets like the Oxford Book of American Short Stories. They push boundaries, just like teenagers themselves.
Their energy was contagious. After the reading, they were brimming with exciting ideas and delighted that they’d been given permission to write whatever in the heck they wanted to. Not one student I spoke with was committed to one particular genre, or even to writing as their sole artistic discipline.
That’s the same kind of freedom and experimentation that we try to encourage when we open up submissions for our Surreal South series. If boundaries aren’t pushed frequently and with enthusiasm, storytelling becomes static and dull.
And speaking of pushing boundaries, have you seen this art installation project by Marco Brambilla? I picked it up from VSL today. It’s rich and amazing and thought-provoking. Brambilla uses thousands of images created by others–many of which are very familiar–and relies on his deep cultural knowledge to make the piece successful. I’m mesmerized by it, and enchanted by the thoughts and stories it evokes inside me.