826 Students Guest Edit ‘The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019’

September 30, 2019

Get ready to make some space on your bookshelf because The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019 is here! 

826 National once again has the honor of serving as the series’ editor and New York Times bestselling author Edan Lepucki — author of the novels California and Woman No. 17 — is the guest editor of this year’s publication. The anthology also features work from Viet Thanh Nguyen, Robin Coste Lewis, Charles Johnson, Andrea Long Chu, and more.

“There was a lot of care and a lot of conversation that went into making this anthology, and the 25 selected pieces were the standouts of the year,” says Beatrice Kilat, managing editor of Best American Nonrequired Reading

For the 2019 edition, choosing what to include was a consultative process with 15 Bay Area high school students who participate in 826 programs. “I was really surprised by how thorough the students were and are,” Kilat says. “We are so excited to have you all read along with us, and fall in love with the characters — real, fictional, and cabbage patch — inside the book. 

The teens came together each week and “talked a lot about who gets to write what and why, and we spent a lot of time considering work in the context of the year,” Kilat says. “As we reflected on things happening in the news, they wanted to read fiction and poetry and essays that related to big-picture issues told from different perspectives. It wasn’t always explicit, but you can see the whole year in the collection in this really fascinating way. I love it.”

Kilat says having students select the work that goes into Best American Nonrequired Reading gives them the opportunity to redefine the literary canon “in the context of the news and, most importantly, their lives. Amplifying their perspectives also created “an opportunity for students to think critically and consider not only their experiences but that of their peers and especially of people that they haven’t met yet.” 

“Giving students the reins to do this kind of big work helps to break down the doors of what literature is and who gets to define what matters,” Kilat says. “BANR is proof that we the people get to decide, and it’s a big responsibility, but we’re all capable and up for that challenge — these students are proof that.” 

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019 is available online, or at your fave local bookstore.

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