Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some speculations on the New Yorker's 20 writers under 40

Posted By on Thu, May 27, 2010 at 8:47 PM


A couple weeks back, the internet was abuzz with news that the New Yorker would be releasing a new "20 Writers Under 40" issue for the first time in about a decade. You see, while Vanity Fair and magazines of that ilk are always pumping out features about the "new generation" of "hot, young" Hollywood actresses or rock musicians, fiction writers are usually left out of these vain, somewhat meaningless popularity contests. Some writers might even pretend that they're too busy hanging out in the dusty stacks of a library somewhere to "care," but, honestly, who doesn't like a vain, somewhat meaningless popularity contest every once in a while? It can be a career-changing nod and, besides, it also means that the New Yorker will be publishing a ton of good, new fiction in the month of June.

The New York Observer jumped on the story hard, getting interviews about the demographic breakdown, the influence of other lists, the bummer that Sam Lipsyte is just one year too old, and, inevitably, the "haters." The thing they haven't been able to get is the actual list, which the New Yorker is being seriously tight-lipped about. HTMLGiant is running a contest for the best prediction. Book Fox has some pretty good guesses.

Some thoughts about who will or won't be on the list after the jump.

Jonathan Safran Foer - This guy is practically the poster boy for this list. There's no way around it; he's on it.

Wells Tower - His collection of short stories was one of the biggest literary events of last year, not to mention the fact that "Leopard," from that collection, first appeared in the New Yorker. No contest.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - While her 2009 collection The Thing Around Your Neck didn't quite get the attention it deserved, the Nigerian-born Adichie seems like a really strong possibility. She received a MacArthur "genius" grant in 2008, the same year that the Yorker published the amazing "Headstrong Historian."

Joshua Ferris - Another author with a tight relationship with the magazine. Both his novels, Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed, have been highly praised.

ZZ Packer - She has the distinction of being one the few writers to have her first published story in the New Yorker. Though her first novel has been promised for years now (without ever surfacing), Drinking Coffee Elsewhere is one of the most memorable debut collections of short stories in recent years.

Gary Shteyngart - His 2006 novel Absurdistan was, hands down, one of the best novels of that year. Shteyngart's published in the New Yorker and been included on Granta's 2007 list, making him a likely candidate.

An author "born in 1985 [that] does not even have a book out" - Fiction editor Deborah Treisman let that detail slip in an interview with the Observer. Could be Kirstin Valdez Quade, who published the much talked about story "The Five Wounds" last year, though I'm not sure she's actually that young.

"One of the authors, she said, is from Canada." - Another stray Treisman detail from the Observer. Not sure if any of these predictions are Canadian born, but it does clarify that the Nigerian-born Adichie is not excluded from this "American" list.

Zadie Smith - She would be a "no questions asked" shoe-in, but Treisman's qualification that "These are all people who are writing primarily for American readers" probably means that she's too British for the list.

John Wray - This novelist is just inside the age limit (being born in 1971 should make him 39, right?). While he hasn't published much with the New Yorker, book critic James Wood gave his latest novel Lowboy an adoring review that should put him in the running.

Josh Weil and Karen Russell - Both picks from from the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35" list that could be in the running.

A Small Press Hero - The New Yorker has so far steered clear of the hyped-up small press and indie-lit scene that's been growing thanks to fervent bloggers like HTMLGiant, so there's no reason to think that'll choose someone like Tao Lin now. On the other hand, the story of Paul Harding's Tinkers win of the Pulitzer Prize might indicate a changing lit landscape. Look for someone on the list to have some indie-lit cred.

Any other ideas? The list should be getting out sometime next week.

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