As Stein explained it to me, the process of assembling the book involved reaching out to a group of writers, who would in turn select stories from the magazine’s archive for the anthology.
“We were very interested to see who the writers’ writers were, and what they looked for and remembered,” Stein said. And the authors selecting stories represent a sort of literary fiction dream team—a group that includes Lorrie Moore, Sam Lipsyte, Ali Smith, Ann Beattie, Dave Eggers, Mary Gaitskill, Jeffrey Eugenidies, and Jonathan Lethem. Some of their introductions focus on the lives of the writers they selected. Others, such as Eggers’s discussion of James Salter’s “Bangkok,” approach it from the level of craft: Eggers calls it a “nine-page master class in dialogue” in his introduction.
“Our initial concern was maybe that the stories selected would be too well-known, and that it would be a sort of greatest-hits collection,” Stein explained. “Those fears were pretty quickly laid to rest.