Sharyn Skeeter’s anthology of short stories is titled after one of the most weighted questions there is: What’s Next? In these times of cultural and political turmoil, as well as constant churns of technology, change can feel like a never-ending roller coaster of stress. But we can’t stop it, so all we can do is wait for the inevitable and hope we will withstand what’s to come.

As Skeeter writes in her introduction to the anthology, none of the works she’s collected here are interested in providing any soothing answers. Instead, the stories in What’s Next? sit in that moment of change, of uncertainty, of the unknown, as Skeeter contextualizes for her readers in the introduction:

No wonder we ask “What’s Next?” We’re in a tough run. Covid-19 pandemic, economic hardship, climate change with its catastrophic fires and floods, war and international upheaval, food and energy shortages, personal uncertainty in relationships, rising crime, political conflicts, immigration, cultural polarization, gender and racial issues, and fake news. We’ve had it all these past years—and it continues.

This is the question that the authors in this anthology pose, directly or indirectly, though not one of their stories predicts a definite answer. Each author, in his or her unique fiction, offers readers the opportunity to consider their own next options.

Kirkus Reviews calls What’s Next? “an impressive, dynamic host of spectacular stories filled with engaging characters.”

Skeeter, who is from the Northeast but now lives in Seattle, describes herself as “technically retired” from a long career as an educator and editor. She was the poetry, fiction, and book reviews editor on the very first staff of Essence magazine, and her writing has appeared in periodicals such as Chicago Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, and Hawaii Pacific Review, as well as in anthologies like In Search of Color Everywhere, edited by E. Ethelbert Miller, and Our Black Sons Matter, edited by George Yancy. Skeeter has taught at universities around the United States, moderated the Visit Seattle poetry program at the The Atlantic Festival 2023 in Washington, D.C., and serves as secretary and library curator for Earth Creative.

She also has an established career as an author. In 2019, her novel Dancing With Langston was named the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year in the Multicultural Adult Fiction category. But Skeeter’s idea for What’s Next? was for her to be one of a group of writers. “I started out as an editor,” she says. “So editing an anthology was not such a big leap. I really wanted to hear different voices. What’s Next? is quite diverse. I wanted to see how other creative people presented a lead-up to the question of ‘What’s next?’”

While any generation of people will be subject to inevitable cultural developments, the 21st century presents a moment of more extreme upheaval. In these kinds of dramatic, transitional periods, we become fixated on trying to predict what will happen. But as Skeeter notes, “There are no clear answers.” And so the writers she has assembled in What’s Next? present a wide variety of approaches to grappling with uncertainty rather than a singular answer to the titular question.

Some of the stories in What’s Next? are previously published works, but others were commissioned especially for this anthology. The twenty-five works include Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “Doors,” which explores how a marriage reacts to the stress of an interloper; Joseph Bruchac’s “Vision,” which centers on an Indigenous man who is a veteran with literary aspirations; and Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s “Election,” in which a young woman gives readers a brief look into her painful affair with her boss.

Praising the consistency of excellent writing across the wide array of writers and genres in the anthology, Kirkus quotes a passage from Shannon Sander’s contribution, “The Good, Good Men”: “‘Lee had met their father at a District jazz lounge that no longer existed, a place Miles had long imagined as dark and deliciously moody like the man himself, with threads of light piano melody curling through the air between sets.’ Such passages electrify narratives that readers will surely savor.”

Skeeter’s main consideration in choosing what stories to include was just that—good writing. When it came to the stories she wanted to commission for What’s Next?, she simply reached out to professional writers she knew she could trust. “I left it to them to come up with something,” she says. “And I wasn’t disappointed.”

It was Skeeter’s own contribution, “Office Break,” that focused on race more than any of the others. Her editor surprised her with the directive to include a story of her own in the anthology. And when she looked through the stories she’d collected, she noticed that none of them were primarily concerned with discussing race. Of course, there were plenty of writers of color included, but Skeeter felt that if the book was going to be concerned with our contemporary moment, then she wanted to touch more directly on issues of race than the other authors had. “But it’s truly not a race story as such,” she says. “It’s really about getting to your own core. And figuring out how to get rid of the traumas that are holding you back from being able to love, being able to breathe.” Skeeter says that “Office Break” is about pulling yourself out of your past and “getting yourself out of the box” so you can genuinely “experience another person.”

Even though there is an obvious difference between writing your own novel from scratch and compiling an anthology, there is clear creative power in the editor’s hands. Which stories should be included? Which not? And why? What are you looking for, and how will you know when you see it? Skeeter’s extensive experience as an editor meant she was no stranger to the creative nuances of an editor’s job.

But when asked how she wields creative control as an editor as opposed to as an independent author, she always reframes herself as the person who opens the door for readers to explore how many different writers use the tools of fiction to answer a broad, yet fraught, question. “I wanted to hear different voices,” she says. “And I wanted to give voice to some who might not have it. Each person is going to have a slightly different take on the same problem.” If Skeeter cannot literally give voice to every voiceless person, then she can at least assemble as wide an array of points of view as possible, reflecting the diversity of the human experience. “I was in awe of the writers,” she says of how she felt about the finished book. “I really appreciated what they all had done, and I think it does work together, even if each story is unique.”

To that end, Skeeter continues to talk about What’s Next? by hosting a series of interviews with the authors from the anthology, posted on YouTube. She’s also writing more short stories and another novel. “I’m always trying to figure out how what’s going on right now in science, or in other fields, contributes to the human being who is alive in this particular time. Now that I know a little bit about my own writing, that seems to be a theme in all of my work!”


Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.