Swapna Krishna & Jenn Northington
It was the summer of 2018, and we were sitting in Swapna’s living room. Swapna was pregnant with her first baby, and Jenn was bursting with an idea for an anthology. “Where are the gender-bent Arthur stories?” Jenn asked. “The race-bent retellings, the queered ones?”
We couldn’t easily find them—and we thought it just might be possible that not only did other people want them but also there were folks out there ready to write them, or who maybe already had.
As this collection came together over the past few years (it’s hard to believe we’ve been working on it for so long!), it’s been exciting to discover the published stories we missed and to see that we weren’t alone—there’s been a renaissance of “bent” Arthur retellings that we devoured. Even more electrifying for us are the authors who said yes when we asked, then proceeded to write stories that have blown our minds, knocked our socks off, and made our hearts grow too many sizes to count.
Each writer puts their own unique spin on a bit of Arthurian legend. One of the unexpected joys of editing has been watching the resonances develop among them, especially when none of the writers really knew what anyone else was working on except for barest details (character, general time frame, maybe genre). These stories have cousins and siblings the authors aren’t even aware of.
Roshani Chokshi and Sarah MacLean deliver atmospheric stories heavy with longing and bursting with romance, albeit in very different ways, both giving voice to strong women we’ve fallen in love with. Ausma Zehanat Khan and Nisi Shawl bring the wider world to Camelot in ways that blur its boundaries and elevate the storytelling to something larger and more global. And Daniel Lavery and Sive Doyle make us laugh, make us cry, and give us two queer couples that absolutely deserve to be canon.
Then there’s Maria Dahvana Headley, who finds the Arthurian overtones of a muckraker in late-nineteenth-century America. Waubgeshig Rice and Alex Segura both incorporate baseball into their reimagined Arthur but in very different ways: in one, a pickup game on a reservation leads to an amazing discovery; in the other, a washed-up minor-league player finds help where he least expects it. Anthony Rapp finds magic in the throes of the AIDS crisis, while S. Zainab Williams explores that intangible search for belonging through a lonely girl in Singapore. Jessica Plummer and Preeti Chhibber both consider how it might look if a legend made itself known in modern life—with very different consequences.
No Arthurian collection would be complete without a look forward, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia brings us to a near-future Mexico City in a story both eerie and prescient. Ken Liu takes us even farther out, into a universe in which identity shifts from one moment to the next . . . but past mistakes can haunt you forever. A little closer to home is Alexander Chee’s story, set on our neighboring planet and contemplating public versus private personas, secrets, and games.
This collection has been a privilege and a joy to curate and has shown us just how much room there is to play. We hope that you’ll enjoy these stories as much as we do, and that these stories are merely the tip of the iceberg for inclusive Arthurian fiction. Everyone deserves to see themselves on the page, and even if you don’t find your specific identity within these stories, perhaps you’ll see some small part of yourself inside these characters and these old, and yet entirely new, legends.
Copyright © 2021 by Swapna Krishna and Jenn Northington. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.