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The purpose of an anthology is to provide the potential reader with easy access to a wide range of literary works on a given theme. For example, one can have an anthology of poetry from 18th-century England, or an anthology of Existentialist philosophy. Usually, an anthology contains excerpts or selections rather than full works. The idea would be that if any particular work catches the reader's attention, then s/he can pursue the avenue further. 

Anthology definition

Do you own any books that compile different works by various literary writers and authors? A book like that is what's known as an anthology. 

An anthology will usually compile the works of various poets, authors, journalists, or recording artists. With anthologies of journalists or critics, the book might consist of articles written on different topics over a lengthy span of time for various publications. When novelists are featured in an anthology, it's likely to focus on their shorter works.

In some cases, anthologies are compiled by publishers around a certain theme, such as short stories or poems from a particular genre, culture, nation, or time period.

Examples of anthologies

Some of the most popular anthologies have compiled works from famous poets, novelists, and musical acts. Examples include the following:

  • The Best American Short Stories – an annual anthology of some of the finest short stories by America's most renowned writers. Compiled yearly since 1915, BASS has been handled by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt since the late 1970s.
  • Anthology 1, Anthology 2, Anthology 3 – a trio of double-CDs released as tie-ins with The Beatles Anthology (1995), an 11-hour made-for-television documentary on Liverpool's favorite sons; the discs primarily consist of rarities and demos from 1958-1970.
  • The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz – compiled in 1973 by jazz historian Martin Williams, this six-album set—which remains the preferred starting point among educators and listeners—charts 50 years of the music's history.

The term anthology has also been used to refer to television programs that feature a series of short vignettes tied to a single theme, such as horror, suspense, and erotica. Examples include Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Red Shoe Diaries.

Additional information

The word "anthology" derives from the Greek word anthologia; it was converted to English during the 17th century. In the Far East, anthologies have been used for centuries to compile the best works within a literary genre for popular consumption. 

During the 20th century, the anthology assumed a multi-purpose role within the realm of literary publishing. The Georgian Poetry anthologies of 1912-1922 were a game-maker for English poetry, because they demonstrated that young, upcoming poets were an easy sell when marketed collectively as part of a new wave of talent. Soon thereafter, publishing houses left and right were whipping out anthologies, some of which collected works from a given magazine or newspaper; others that compiled poetry or short stories from an editor's stable of talent.  

For the cultural neophyte, anthologies provide the chance to experience works from unfamiliar genres, eras, and cultures. If the anthology covers an obscure type of music, it could help untrained ears acquire the taste, or at least develop an understanding for sounds that would otherwise never cross their radar. The same could be true for an anthology of shorts from a group of existentialist writers; some people might quickly put the book down in shock, only to return later with a newfound sense of empathy.

A perfect example is non-English sung music—MPB, gogo, chanson—which might alienate American ears in the wrong context, whereas an anthology of works from those genres could end up winning some unlikely fans. A recent example is the Q.D.K. Media label's Love, Peace & Poetry series, which has exposed young music connoisseurs to vintage psychedelic music from Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Turkey, and elsewhere.  

At its most useful, the anthology has the ability to expand the cultural scope of an intellectually curious public.  

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