Whaaaaaaat? You haven’t heard?
A few weeks ago, The New Yorker published its “20 Under 40” list of American writers to watch. You know, the 20 wrinkle-free writers (out of the plethora of American writers) that “capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction.”
list, as expected, has sent many folks in the writing/publishing world into a
Politically Correct Answer: The politics surrounding which writers were included, why they were included, which writers weren’t included, who is or is not an “American” writer, who did the choosing, etc. are sketchy. (Aren’t all politics?)
Non-Politically Correct Answer: The New Yorker is a snobby, elitist, stroke-your-own publication that prefers one type of risk-free fiction.
Out of curiosity I picked up a copy of the “20 Under 40” issue of The New Yorker and read stories by eight of the chosen writers. (Stories by the remaining writers will be published in upcoming issues, I believe.) Some—like Jonathan Safran Foer whose novel Exremely Loud, Incredibly Close I absolutely love—I was already familiar with. Others I’d never heard of before.
Some I liked.
Some bored me.
Others simply weren't my kind of story.
Since I’ve been jetlagged and unable to accomplish much other than reading (and staring mindlessly into space at all hours of the night), I’ve also been monitoring the hubbub surrounding the publication of this list.
And yowza…it is quite the hubbub. (Nothin’ like a good hubbub, I always say.)
Who's talking about it?
- Steve Almond's friendly-writer-hand-reaching-out-to-support-other-(non-New-Yorker-list)-writers in The Rumpus
- Dzanc Books’ indie-geared alternative “20 Under 40” list
- Gina Frangello’s thoughtful exploration at The Nervous Breakdown
- The Millions impromptu list (which includes, thank you, Kiran Desai)
- Lee Siegel’s lament in The New York Observer over the transition of “writer” from “vocation” to “profession”
- And perhaps the most hope-giving, well-rounded response of all was Robert McCrum’s reminder in The Observer that Walt Whitman (yes, THE Walt Whitman) self-published his first collection of poetry when he was 36 and that his “creative leap forward” didn’t come to fruition until even later than that.
[As always, I believe much truth comes out in the comments sections. Be sure to read the comments sections at each of the above posts to get a feel for how strongly readers/writers feel about this whole thing.]
What do I make of it all?
- It’s human nature to organize things. To compartmentalize. To categorize. We do it in closets, on bookshelves, on iTunes, with friends, with family, with our interior lives. And we all do it differently.
- The New Yorker is an elitist publication with its rather perfect snout in the air. Even so, I enjoy it. (That said, I often skip the fiction & only read the nonfiction.)
- I’ll bet that folks at The New Yorker knew that by publishing this particular list they were stirring a bubbling brew, and I imagine that right now they’re all sitting in an air-conditioned room with great art on the wall, laughing and drinking chai, happy that they’ve once again gotten the larger reading/writing world worked into a frenzy & talking about all the fabulous writers who weren’t included on the list.
- And finally (and most importantly, I think), this hubbub has got me thinking about gestation—about how long it takes any given writer to discover and harness her voice, understand story, live a life, practice writing, know humans a bit, tell the truth, get her ducks in a row, etc.
For some writers, it’s a fast boil.
For others, it’s sloooooooow simmer.
But in the
end, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
The New Yorker can create its preferred-youngsters list, Steve Almond can make us all laugh and cry about it (thank god), Dzanc can create a kick-ass alternative list, The Nervous Breakdown can explore the intricacies and implications of all lists, the rest of us can Twitter about it, Facebook about it, and maybe even have a quick bathroom-stall sob about the fact that we’re not included on THE list—or, um, any list, for that matter—BECAUSE no matter what, we writers are going to shut ourselves in our offices/coffee shops/cars/tingzijians, dive into writerhead, and write.
It’s what we do.
What we’re driven to do.
In other words, who gives a crap? We're all going to write anyway.
So, writers, two questions for you:
- Who are your favorite writers (American or not)? Living. Writing & publishing now. Any age at all.
- Are you a fast boil or a slow simmer?
Photos Courtesy of:
Elephants: Tim Seed / FreeDigitalPhotos.net