Magazine Names Best Young British Novelists

By Rohter, Larry | Honolulu Star - Advertiser, April 16, 2013 | Go to article overview

Magazine Names Best Young British Novelists


Rohter, Larry, Honolulu Star - Advertiser


Every 10 years since 1983, the London-based literary magazine Granta names the 20 writers it considers the Best of Young British Novelists. The list has come to be regarded as a bellwether in the literary world, since so many of the writers singled out at that early stage of their careers -- starting with Martin Amis, Pat Barker and Salman Rushdie -- have gone on to great critical and commercial success.

On Monday night, in a ceremony broadcast on the BBC, Granta announced its fourth list, whose character differs substantially from that of its predecessors and is likely to generate an animated discussion about what it means to be British in the 21st century. A majority of the writers were either born outside Britain or are the children of immigrants, from countries as far-flung as Pakistan, Nigeria, Hungary, China, Australia and Jamaica.

And, for the first time, a majority are women -- 12, to be exact, compared with only six in 1983, six in 1993 and eight in 2003.

Half of the excerpts that are to be published in the magazine's spring edition take place partly or entirely outside Britain. Some, like Nadifa Mohamed's "Filsan," whose main character is a female Somali army officer, or Benjamin Markovits' "You Don't Have to Live Like This," about a Louisiana Cajun trying to make his way through Yale, do not even feature British characters.

"We didn't set out to do this," said Granta's editor, John Freeman, who served on the seven-member panel that selected the novelists. "We just wanted to find exciting writers, and it happens that the big storytellers of this generation are people with a very complicated sense of home."

Yet, as novelists, they arrive at a moment when books have never had a harder time getting the public's attention. This puts the Granta list in the paradoxical position of mattering more to writers when writers matter less to the culture.

For this reason, publishers have become increasingly adept at exploiting any effort to cast a spotlight on writers and books. To help that process, the National Book Award in January announced that it would increase the number of finalists and stretch out the judging process, with a long list and a shortlist, so as to emulate the Man Booker Prize, Britain's top literary award.

Taiye Selasi, 33, whose first novel, "Ghana Must Go," was recently published, is represented in the Granta collection with a short story called "Driver," set in Ghana and told from the point of view of the striving young chauffeur of a wealthy man. Born in London into a family with roots in Ghana and Nigeria, Selasi grew up in Brookline, Mass.; studied at Yale and Oxford; and now lives in Rome.

"The options are endless," she said this month while in New York to promote the novel. "One of the legacies of imperialism is that after you've gone far and wide and then come back home, other people can call themselves British too. A story in Accra with characters who have spent huge amounts of time in London -- is that any less British than a story over tea in Knightsbridge?"

For Granta itself, the lists have become something of a global trademark. In 1996 it published its first Best of Young American Novelists list, now also a once-a-decade event, and has recently extended that franchise to include Spanish-language novelists in 2010, and young Brazilian novelists last year. Granta's Brazilian and Chinese editions will publish excerpts by the authors on this year's British list by the end of the year, Freeman said.

Through their agents or publishers, more than 150 authors applied for the 2013 best of Britain list. …

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