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An anthology is a collection of literary works that were chosen by a single compiler, a group of people, or an institution of some kind.

They are collections of short stories, poems, plays, songs, or shorter excerpts from larger literary works, like novels. Sometimes, an anthology is restricted to just plays, poems, etc. While other times it might contain a sampling from various genres.

Anthologies are characterized by the fact that they have works by different authors within their pages, although it is possible to find an anthology dedicated to one person. The characters, settings, and specific themes are usually completely unrelated to one another. 

Anthologies are usually put together by editors and a specific publishing company. But, today, it’s not uncommon to find an anthology compiled by a famous author. For example, American Gothic Tales edited by Joyce Carol Oates. 

Anthology pronunciation: Ahn-thaw-low-gee

Anthology definition and meaning


Definition of Anthology 

The word “anthology” comes from the Greek “anthologia,” meaning “a collection of blossoms.” There are several different categories of anthologies, such as those touching on television and film, but literary anthologies are the most common.

In the twentieth century, anthologies took on new importance as publishers started to see the economic potential of such volumes. Writers of all varieties began seeking out anthologies as a way of publicizing their work, and anthologies made their way into academic settings. Today, they are found in universities around the world and used as a resource for students to receive a broad education in the most important writers of all time. 


Examples of Anthologies 

100 Best-Loved Poems 

100 Best-Loved Poems is a popular anthology that features 100 of the most popular and widely read poems ever written.

The vast majority of these should be easily recognizable to any lover of literature. The collection was compiled by Philip Smith and dates from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Some of the poems found in this anthology include: 


The North Anthology of English Literature 

The North Anthology of English Literature is an anthology that was first published in 1962 by W.W. Norton & Company. It has since gone through ten editions and is now established as one of the best academic sources of writing from English literature. It contains everything from essays to poems, letters, short stories, plays, and more. In the anthology, which is currently in its tenth edition, readers can find plays by William Shakespeare, Beowulf, the poetry of Seamus Heaney, excerpts from Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales,  The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, works by Salman Rushdie, Derek Walcott, and more. 


Literature of Crime edited by Ellery Queen 

Literature of Crime was published in 1952 and helped to elevate the genre of crime fiction. It included stories by famous authors in an attempt to make the reading public reconsider the worth of such a genre. In this collection, readers can find works by Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, and many lesser-known authors who are more closely connected to the crime genre. 


The Faerie Queens, edited by David Rankine 

In this volume, readers can explore essays that touch on themes of myths, magic, and mythology. This is a great example of how an anthology can include works all based around one theme, although that’s not always the case. The title alludes to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Some of the essays in this book include: 

  • “The Valkyries: Norse Fairie Queens?” by Valerie Karlson 
  • “Queen of the Underworld and the Fruit of Knowledge” by Felicity Fyr le Fay
  • “Holda: Winter’s Faerie Queen” by Ceri Norman 
  • “Spirits at the Table: Faerie Queens in the Grimoires” by Dan Harms


Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman 

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders is an example of a single-author anthology. This work contains Gaiman’s best short stories, such as “Th Problem of Susan,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” and “A Study in Emerald.” 


The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor 

This collection contains all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, including her best-known, like “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” as well as some that are less-commonly read. This is a great example of how a single-author anthology provides readers with a complete picture of a writer’s oeuvre. 


Why are Anthologies Important? 

Anthologies are important because they give readers an insight into a wide variety of places and experiences, as seen through the eyes of various writers.

When they are successfully created, they feel like a unified work, despite the fact that the stories, poems, etc., inside them can be quite different from one another. A reader can walk away from an anthology with a broad understanding of literature from one period, a genre of poetry, or works on a specific theme. When reading an anthology, it’s unlikely that the reader is going to find themselves bored by the subject matter since it is so variable and will be written in many different styles. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Novel: a long, written, fictional narrative that includes some amount of realism.
  • Novella: prose, fiction work that’s shorter than a novel and longer than a short story.
  • Play: a form of writing for theatre. It is divided into acts and scenes.
  • Biography: an account or description of a person’s life, literary, fictional, historical, or popular in nature, written by a biographer.
  • Prose: a written and spoken language form that does not make use of a metrical pattern or rhyme scheme.


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