Granta’s Young American Novelists
A CONTRARY VIEW
LITERARY ARISTOCRACY LIVES!
At least, it lives within tiny literary circles in London and New York. The aristos exist in small rooms with mirrored walls which make their numbers and clout appear greater– to themselves– than they actually are.
And so, Granta Magazine‘s “Best of Young American Novelists 3” has sent shock waves through the clubby room, if nowhere else. Which well-connected New York-based writers should have been included? Which had better been left out?
We’re not talking the 1920’s, when there were a host of culturally-and-artistically significant young American novelists to talk about– Hemingway/Fitzgerald/Faulkner/Wolfe/Dos Passos– giant names, talents, personalities, personas.
No, there is no young Tiger Woods waiting to revive the literary sport. What we get is what we get. The Granta 21.
One can assume the presented writings of the Granta 21 will appear daring to established literati. That everything said by them will appeal to the New York literati mindset and the greater literary mob. They wouldn’t have been included otherwise.
But enough of this rant. What are the facts?
17 of the 21 novelists are captives of New York-based “Big 5” conglomerate publishing. (Random House with the most.) Of the other four writers, two live in New York City. Which proves that, for establishment lit people, New York remains center of the universe.
Most, if not all of the Granta 21 came up through the system– jumping through the required hoops at select writing programs of Stanford, Columbia, Iowa, or Brown. Most have been awarded with lavish non-profit (tax shelter) largesse: MacArthur Genius awards; grants from PEN, Young Lions, Guggenheim, National Book Foundation– large pools of well-protected wealth. Fellowships as well: MacDowell, NYFA, Fulbrights. There remains a truly massive system in the United States for creating approved writers; the greatest ever seen in world history. Huge bureaucracies. Enormous expenditures via sprawling real estate-gobbling universities, and Manhattan skyscrapers bursting with agents, editors, and publicists. The Granta 21 is what the giant behemoths have produced. Best of the best of system art, for whatever that’s worth.
Our contention is that the 21 aren’t representative of America, so much as a well-screened, well-indulged fragment of America.
Even more than New York City, London– where Granta is based– has an ingrained imperialist mindset. The point-of-view is always tops-down, with the rest of the world there to be colonized by those with the proper tops-down mindset. Everything stems from the ivory towers of Cambridge and Oxford. (In the U.S.A., Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Brown et.al.) Those from outlying territories can join the club by coming to the Imperial City or going through one of the elite academic screening centers.
The sun never sets on the Anglo-American cultural empire.
This isn’t bad or good. It just IS.
There are a few ringers thrown in. or at least one, in the person of Halle Butler, who lives in Chicago and is published by an indy, Curbside Splendor Publishing, based in Chicago. Hail Halle!
There are two African-born writers who may be American, or may not. Dinaw Mengestu was educated in the U.S., but now lives in Paris. Close enough. Chinelo Okperanta was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writers. In this day and age, editors get diversity any way they can. Everything is global, after all. (Globalism has always been a euphemism for Imperialism.)
Then there’s Mark Doten, published by indy Graywolf Press; fiction editor at indy Soho Press. Doten teaches English at Columbia University, as does one of the four Granta judges, Ben Marcus. Mark Doten straddles both worlds.
We have two questions.
1.) Is any one of the 21 “best” novelists under 40 qualified to be in the All-Time American Writers Tournament? They’re the future, after all. The present. Is forty years enough time to show outstanding talent?
What about Garth Hallberg? Hallberg received an enormous advance for his novel, then a tremendous publicity blitz behind the book from the Manhattan publicity machine. Ever hear of Garth Hallberg? Does he deserve to be ranked with Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Morrison, and company? (Uh, no.)
2.) Are any of the Granta 21 even as talented as the four young writers, under the age of 30, that we recently profiled? See our Overview, which contains links to their work.
Granta‘s 21, or our four? Judge for yourself.
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