Back in 2021, when the world was young, Jenn Northington co-edited a short story anthology called Sword Stone Table: Old Legends, New Voices, in which contemporary writers put their own spin on the legends of King Arthur and the Knights Of The Round Table. But in her new anthology, Fit For The Gods: Greek Mythology Reimagined (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), Northington and co-editor S. Zainab Williams have gone one step further, assembling a collection of gender-bent, queered, race-bent, and inclusive versions of those classic Greek tales. In the following email interview, Jenn and S. discuss why they took this approach, how this collection came together, and what influence Jenn’s work on Sword had on Gods…and S.
Note: All answers are from both Jenn and S. unless otherwise indicated.
Jenn Northington (Photo Credit: Jackie Pascucci), S. Zainab Williams
To start, was is the idea behind Fit For The Gods? What are these stories?
Jenn: After the incredible experience putting together Sword Stone Table, I knew I wanted to do another anthology, and I had sounded S. out about being my co-editor, since we’re co-hosts on a podcast and have worked together for years. She agreed, and when we were brainstorming ideas, it turned out that Greco-Roman mythology was a touchpoint for each of us. And, of course, we’ve seen lots of retellings coming out in recent years, but we felt like there was still a lot of room to play.
Why did you want to assemble a collection in which people put these kinds of spins on the Greek myths?
So much of the Western canon, including Western mythologies, center whiteness, non-disabled people, and cis heteronormativity. Many of the bestselling retellings and reimaginings continue this tradition, and there’s no dearth of space, marketing dollars, publishing demand etc. for those stories. We wanted to join the rising number of writers and editors acknowledging and responding to a need for people who don’t fit into those boxes to see themselves in stories they grew up with.
And let’s face it, a lot of us in the U.S. didn’t grow up learning African American folk tales, First Nations stories, and mythos that didn’t include other people who are queer or disabled, for instance. Greco-Roman mythology, however, was taught, recommended, and made accessible to us. We have the privilege of being able to seek out different stories as adults, but it hasn’t diminished our desire to see the diversity we know exists in the world, and existed in spaces that gave birth to the Western canon, reflected in the stories that shaped us all beyond youth.
We do want to acknowledge that it was a miss on our part not to make sure to include any Greek writers in the anthology; there are good conversations going on about how these mythologies have been disconnected from the diaspora, and that was a learning moment for us.
So, did you start with the idea of doing gender-bent, queered, race-bent, and inclusive retellings of classic Greek myths, or was the original idea to just do new takes on Greek myths, and everyone came to you with ideas that were gender-bent, queered, race-bent, and / or inclusive?
We always wanted to make this anthology inclusive. Inclusivity and intersectional feminism are both personal and professional concerns of ours. We work for Book Riot, where they’re built into the values and mission of our work, and we’re constantly aware of the dearth of representation that still exists in publishing.
Once you had the theme, how then did you decide what writers or stories to include? Did you have writers in mind and let them pick the myth, did you open it up to solicitations, what?
We knew that we wanted to solicit stories from writers we admire who could do something new and interesting with Greek mythology, and we also knew that we wanted to conduct an open call for stories. There’s so much new talent out there, and there are also amazing established writers we may not be as familiar with — we read a lot but we have other passions claiming our time, ya know? We couldn’t be happier with the result.
Did you run into any situations where more than one person wanted to do the same myth?
Jenn: This was definitely something I personally was worried about happening, after my experience on Sword Stone Table; so many people wanted to write about Merlin. But we somehow didn’t have that issue here. Everyone came from such different directions, we didn’t have to worry about any overlap.
And what was the best joke someone made about this being a workout book for people who want to be jacked like Chris Hemsworth from the Thor movies?
Jenn: You are the first!! I am sort of amazed no one else has done this yet, to be honest.
The title is actually a small nod to a favorite show of ours, RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Being myths, I’m sure some of the stories fall under the banner of fantasy. But what other genres are included in these stories?
We intentionally curated this anthology to include genres beyond fantasy, much as we love those stories. So, we have speculative lit (“Tiresias” by Zeyn Joukhadar and “Trembling Aspen; Or, To Shiver” by Marika Bailey), speculative historical fiction (“Wild To Covet” by Sarah Gailey), romance (“Pickles For Mrs. Pomme” by Susan Purr), contemporary fiction (“The Ship Of Thea” by Suleikha Snyder), mystery (“The Furies Detective Agency” by Mia P. Manansala), and, of course, sci-fi (“Atalanta Hunts The Boar” by Valerie Valdes; “A Heart Inured To Suffering” by Jude Reali; “Stasis (Bastion In The Spring”) by Alyssa Cole, which is post-apocalyptic romance; and “The Eagles At The Edge Of The World” by Taylor Rae, which is climate fiction).
Susan Purr, Mia P. Manansala
As you just mentioned, Susan Purr’s contribution is called “Pickles For Mrs. Pomme,” while Mia P. Manansala’s story is called “The Furies Detective Agency.” Which makes me think these stories might be…well, not laugh out loud funny, but maybe a bit cheeky.
S.: Oh yeah, give us your comedy. There are quite a few stories with a strong funny bone, and we like it that way! As with genre, we wanted to mix it up with tone — it was part of the art and beauty of curating this collection. And we all deserve a dose of humor in this dark timeline, truly.
Now Jenn, as you mentioned, you previously co-edited an anthology called Sword Stone Table, which was similar but about Arthurian legends. Did you learn anything editing Sword Stone Table that made assembling Fit For The Gods that much easier or better?
Jenn: I learned so much during the editing process for Sword Stone Table that helped with this one. Perhaps the biggest thing was just having been through it once; I knew better what the hardest parts might be and what to expect at each stage of publishing, which takes some of the mystery and, let’s be honest, terror out of the process. But it did also give me ideas for what I wanted to do differently this time around, like the open call for authors. We used 100% solicited stories with Sword Stone Table, which was a privilege and turned out amazingly well, but it was something I wanted to do.
As you for you, S.; this is the first anthology you’ve edited. In preparing to work on Fit For The Gods, did you look at any other anthologies to get a sense of what to do, and, more importantly, what not to do?
S.: This is indeed my first crack at editing an anthology. I’ve read a few anthologies in my life, but not for research purposes. To be honest, once I signed on to work on this project there was no time to spare for sitting down with a heap of books and analyzing what I did and did not want. I relied on the knowledge I had in my back pocket, my background in editing, and Jenn’s previous experience with this process. I’ve happily resigned myself to the certainty that I’ll never feel fully prepared to jump into the big new things I decide are worth giving a try.
Anyway, we had a pretty clear personal vision of what we wanted this anthology to look like, but one important thing I’ve learned from reading anthologies is that not every story included will speak to everyone and that’s okay.
So Jenn, how did S. do in her first anthology editing gig?
Jenn: She’s amazing. Her editorial eye is so good, so incisive, and we had such a fun time at every stage of the process, from brainstorming to story selections (which was also agonizing, for the record), to actually getting the book finalized and through the production process. I knew from co-hosting the SFF Yeah! podcast with her that she has solid taste in areas that are weak spots for me (horror is a big one), and vice versa, so it felt very complementary. She’s also a writer herself, and having that perspective is incredibly helpful on this end of the process.
S., do you have any compliments you’d like to pay Jenn about her work on Fit For The Gods?
S.: I will shout this to the rooftops, but I am so, so grateful for Jenn’s previous experience working on Sword Stone Table, her penchant for documenting processes and spreadsheeting all the things, and her deep history working with authors. She’s also a wonderful human, and I couldn’t have asked for a better co-pilot on the wild ride that is creating an anthology.
Now, S., you also do cool illustrations. But there are none in Fit For The Gods. How come?
S.: I love illustrating, but didn’t even consider doodling for this project. And, honestly, if we’d had enough room for all of the stories we wanted to fit and illustrations, we might’ve tapped our contributor Marika Bailey, who’s an amazing artist.
Speaking of additions, Fit For The Gods has little author bios for all of the contributors. But it also has them talking a little bit about their stories. Why did you decide to include this aspect?
Jenn: I have to admit that this was a bit of selfishness on my part, because I very much wanted to know what inspired our contributors to write these particular stories. It’s a given we’re all fans of the original mythology, but each brings something personal to them, and as a reader I love knowing about that when the author wants to share. You’ll notice not everyone chose to participate, and that’s fine too; nothing wrong with a little mystery.
The Greek myths have inspired a number of movies over the years. Ray Harryhausen’s Jason And The Argonauts. O Brother, Where Art Thou? Eddie Murphy’s The Nutty Professor. Do you think any of the stories in Fit For The Gods could work as movies?
Can we have all of them? Like Black Mirror or American Horror Story but less terrifying!
And what role would Chris Hemsworth play in that show?
Jenn: I could see him doing a good job as Perseus in Zoraida Córdova’s “The Gorgon Confessionals,” or as Moss Hetley from Sarah Gailey’s “Wild To Covet.”
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Fit For The Gods?
Jenn: Just that I hope they find their story. Anthologies like this contain such multitudes, and we know that not every story works for every reader, but there are such gems in here that I feel confident fans of Greco-Roman mythology will find a few, at the least, that speak to them. I also think, for the record, that you don’t have to be a huge fan or expert in mythology to appreciate them — they all stand beautifully on their own.
Finally, if someone enjoys Fit For The Gods, what novel or novella that’s a reworking of a Greek myth would you each suggest they read next and why that one?
Jenn: This is such a hard question, because there are so many great ones. But a recent favorite that was one of the inspirations for this collection was Love In Color by Bolu Babalola; the whole collection is a delight, and there’s a “Psyche” retelling in there in particular that knocked me over.
We actually tried to solicit a story from her but didn’t hear back. Call us, Bolu!
S.: I’m going to be rebellious and recommend a book I haven’t read, but that I recently learned about and now have to read: Oreo by Fran Ross. I often explore biracial identity in my writing, so when I learned a ’70s satirical novel inspired by the story of Theseus and featuring a Black and Jewish main character exists, I knew I had to read it. A BIPOC-authored Greek mythology retelling that’s also a classic, feels like a rarity one shouldn’t miss out on.