For the first time in its 30-year history, Granta magazine has chosen a majority of female writers for its influential best of young British novelists issue.
The list of 20 writers under the age of 40, which was first produced in 1983 and revised once a decade since then, includes 12 women writers along with a healthy sampling of authors whose surnames alone indicate a new diversity of perspectives in British literature.
“There are three writers with African backgrounds; one who was born in China and began only recently to write in English; another brought up on her parents’ sugar-cane farm in New South Wales; one from Pakistan, another from Bangladesh, a third a second-generation Indian from Derbyshire. Four Jewish writers, one born in Canada of Hungarian descent, and another who was partially raised in Texas,” Granta editor John Freeman wrote in his introduction.
The former Canadian is David Szalay, author most recently of Spring, who has lived in Britain since infancy.
Zadie Smith will be a more familiar name to most readers – if only because she is one of the very few writers who has been named to the Granta list in two successive decades. Adam Thirlwell also makes a second appearance on the 2013 list.
Other authors named to the list include Naomi Alderman, author of The Liars’ Gospel, Taiye Selasi, author of Ghana Must Go, and Helen Oyeyemi, described by The Globe and Mail as “Too Talented To Be This Young.”
The diverse demographics of the new list came as a surprise to the judges who created it, according to Freeman, “because not once during our proceedings did we talk about the need for diversity, or gender balance, or a multiplicity of background,” he wrote. “What we kept coming back to was the necessary snap of a bold style, the confident sweep of storytelling ability and the sense that the writers were in dialogue with the novel as a form.”
Begun as a marketing tool, the Granta list is known as a fairly accurate indicator of its members’ future success. This was especially true of its original incarnation, which identified Ian McEwan, Pat Barker, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis as future stars.
“Historically, the judges of this series have got it right,” Freeman wrote. “If they were stock pickers they would have their own global funds.”
The Granta list has also spawned many imitators, including The New Yorker’s Best 20 Under 40 list. Many of those named to Granta’s list this week have already appeared on similar lists published by other British media.
Guardian critic Theo Tait said the new list included “some exceptional writing” but was “mostly solid, old-fashioned storytelling or hit-and-miss, boil-in-the-bag postmodernism.”