Charles Tan Interviews Steve Berman

Steve Berman’s anthology Where thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: What made you decide to do a queer anthology on Poe?

Steve Berman: Well, from a practical standpoint, I needed an author with an oeuvre vast, known to casual readers, and with elements of the supernatural or weird. Poe met all three criteria. Also, I remember reading a wonderful passage from Graham Robb’s Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century that used queer literary theory  to make a convincing argument for Auguste Dupin and his nameless assistant as a gay couple. So I could imagine “queering” many of Poe’s characters, whom were outsiders of society, much like anyone hiding their sexuality would in his time period.

Charles Tan: What was your criteria in selecting the stories for Where they Dark Eye Glances?

Steve Berman: As with all Lethe books, the stories must not leave the reader with a sense of shame over gender or sexual identity. Because Poe is famous for his poetry, I did not require the submissions must be fiction. I hoped for a balance of male and female authors–and, if possible, male and female protagonists.

The real criteria for inclusion was that the author of the piece did not simply change the orientation of one of Poe’s characters from straight to homosexual but either a) made a statment about societal views of the homoerotic is disturbing and queer in the sense of strange and peculiarc or b) changed the orientation of reader expectation. I assumed that my reader would forsee the characters being queer but I truly wanted that same reader to realize that “queering” the tale caused a ripple effect in plot and tone and mood.

Charles Tan: What were the challenges in doing the anthology?

Steve Berman: I did not want too many interpretations of the same story; there was the very real chance I would be sent   five versions of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Authors must have shared my concern because most of the submissions were based on the less well-known Poe stories and poems–Christopher Barzak’s “For the Applause of Shadows” is based on “William Wilson” and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “Variations of Figures Upon the Wall” explores “Ligeia.” I also received some excellent pieces that were beyond the original idea of the book: making Poe himself gay  (Seth Cadin’s “The City and the Stranger”) or the experience of discovering Poe’s writing (Richard Bowes’s “Seven Days of Poe” and Matthew Cheney’s “Lacuna”). So I decided to break the anthology into three parts: Poe the Man; Poe’s Writing; and Reading Poe. I’m really thrilled that this occurred as the end result is a richer book that engages readers more.

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