Caroline Bock is the co-editor, with Jona Colson, of the new book This Is What America Looks Like: The Washington Writers' Publishing House Anthology. It features poetry and fiction from writers based in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Bock's other books include the story collection Carry Her Home. She lives in Maryland.
Q: How did you select the work to appear in this new anthology, and how did you decide the order in which the pieces would appear?
A: We received over 1,000 submissions of poetry and fiction for This Is What America Looks Like—and Jona Colson, the poetry editor, and Kathleen Wheaton, our publisher, looked for work that wove a story about America at this moment – a moment of social and racial reckonings is what we thought.
But it turned into a moment that we didn’t expect: a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic that laid bare the fissures in our society. We ended up doubling our initial plan for the anthology from 50 to 100 writers.
And the anthology has an unusual layout. It’s set out from Z-A, which was my idea. I thought that rather than straightjacket stories and poems into thematic sections, we would make the last, first.
Mary Kay Zuravleff was thrilled to have her beautiful story, “Myrna, 1934,” at the top of the collection—and it was a small miracle—because in order to understand the present, one must know the past.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland and Virginia rose from a chant.
I attended the Women’s Marches in D.C., and the chant went like this: What does America look like? THIS is what America looks like… meaning diverse, inclusive, participatory, full-voiced, and I was inspired.
I took that inspiration to Kathleen Wheaton and others at The Washington Writers’ Publishing House. They agreed to undertake the press’s first anthology in 25 years.
Q: As you've noted, the authors of these stories and poems are based in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Despite the book's title, do you see any regional themes unique to this area?
A: Power. Race. History. Even though we wanted to make it about America now, we can never get beyond our history—it’s embedded in the DMV.
We saw the racial reckoning in so many works rise to the top and weave in history and power. We saw the idea of power, of political power as well as the personal power and its abuses, weave into the themes of race and history.
In the anthology, read NaBeela Washington’s poem “Sifting America’s Garden” or Venus Thrash’s “No Visible Scars” and “American Progress,” or Kateema Lee’s “Last Epistle,” or Holly Karapetkova’s “Dear White Girl” or Cornelius Eady’s “Cops in Riot Gear Stormed a Violin Vigil for Elijah McClain,” or Regie Cabico’s “Asian in the Sun.”
Or read the short stories, and to only cite a few: Andrew Tran’s witty “Garcon, Insurance,” or Liz Egan’s military-inspired “Get Some” or Caron Garcia Martinez’s searing story about the southern border, “Good People,” and you will see the themes of power, race, history rise.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the anthology?
A: Hope. Hope. Hope. This is what America looks like… all of us…grappling, struggling, angry, loving, mourning, being born, still dreaming and hoping.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on WWPH’s annual contest, which returns later this year! It was cancelled due to the publication of the anthology in 2021. But we will be looking for one collection of poetry and one of literary fiction.
The contest opens on July 1-Nov. 15. I will be one of the fiction judges for the contest. Winners receive publication, readings at Politics & Prose and The Writer’s Center as well as $1,000. More details at our website www.washingtonwriters.org.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Washington Writers’ Publishing House is a nonprofit, cooperative, all-volunteer press, founded in 1975, and still going strong. If you win the contest and choose to publish with us, you become a "member" and commit to fun things like judging the contest the following year. That’s how I became involved with The Washington Writers’ Publishing House – my short story collection, Carry Her Home, won the 2018 Fiction Award.
Copies of This is What America Looks Like are available in trade paperback at www.washingtonwriters.org and at your favorite e-tailer.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Caroline Bock.