Editor discusses ‘Best Canadian Stories 2021’

Former Queen’s Writer in Residence curated the anthology

Schoemperlen is a well-established author.
Credit: 
Supplied by Diane Schoemperlen
On Oct. 19, Best Canadian Stories 2021 was published. It’s the 51st iteration in an annual anthology series of standout short stories by Canadian authors. 
 
Some of the stories in the 2021 edition are from established authors whose works have appeared in magazines or literary journals. Best Canadian Stories 2021 also features a few authors making their print publication debuts. 
 
In an interview with The Journal, editor Diane Schoemperlen discussed how her writing journey ultimately led her to become the project curator. 
 
“[Being the editor] is not something you can apply to do,” she said. “It’s not an application process—[the publishers] pick who they want.”
 
Schoemperlen has published 14 books since 1984 and won the Governor General’s Award in 1998 for her collection of illustrated short stories, Forms of Devotion. In 2007, the Writer’s Trust of Canada honoured her with the Marian Engel Award for established female authors. 
 
In 2012, Schoemperlen, a Kingston resident, served a term as “Writer in Residence” here at Queen’s by invitation of the Department of English. She has fond memories of working with the Queen’s and broader Kingston communities.
 
“In the time I was there, I had people from the age of first-year students to people in their eighties coming in to talk with me,” she said. “I didn’t expect there would [have] been that many people, but it was really great.”
 
As the editor of Best Canadian Stories 2021, Schoemperlen took on the responsibility of choosing which stories were best suited for the anthology. 
 
“I had to read as many short stories written by Canadians in the year 2020 as I could,” she said.  
 
“I did have a few people who submitted to me directly at my request because I knew what they had available to send me. But mostly, the biggest thing I did in all of this was looking at close to a 1000 short stories by Canadians—and then I had to choose.” 
 
Narrowing down this extensive list to just 15 proved quite challenging. 
 
“I discovered I don’t like having to cast judgement that way. There were so many good stories; it was hard being so [judgemental] at the time. I wish I could have said yes to everybody.”
 
Schoemperlen explained she didn’t make her selections based on a checklist. 
 
“The stories that I chose were the ones that knocked my socks off, where I had an immediate reaction to the story,” she said. “As I started to narrow it down, I realized the stories I was most impressed by were those that took risks in one way or another, whether it was voice, form, or the subject matter.” 
 
While readers will surely be impressed by the featured stories, they may be surprised—or perhaps relieved—by the overall lack of COVID-related content. 
 
“Most stories I was looking at were published in 2020, and because most literary journals only come out four times a year, there was a lag,” Schoemperlen explained. 
 
“Most of the stories I read [and chose] were written before COVID.”
 
Readers can still expect a wide variety of themes and topics. Schoemperlen typically writes in the realm of realism, but many of the stories she chose are refreshing fantasy. 
 
“Maybe it’s because I was reading all this during the pandemic, and reality was not at all—and still isn’t—what we used to think it was,” she said. 
 
Best Canadian Stories 2021 can be purchased at Novel Idea and online through major book retailers like Indigo and Amazon

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