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Granta's Best Young British Novelists are coming ... to L.A.

April 16, 2013|By Jenny Hendrix
  • Granta's Best Young British Novelists of 2013 in London.
Granta's Best Young British Novelists of 2013 in London. (Mark Hak/Granta. )

Granta's Best Young British Novelists issue is out today, a thick, once-a-decade collection featuring extracts from the work of 20 promising young voices in British letters. 

This is the fourth installment in the series, which has brought to prominence the likes of Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan, all of whom were listed in the inaugural 1983 issue, and Jeanette Winterson and Alan Hollinghurst, listed in 1993. 

This year's selection was announced Monday night in London in advance of the issue's release; they will bring their show on the road to Los Angeles next week for an event at ALOUD.

The list is notable for being, for the first time, majority female, with 11 women and nine men.  It's also surprisingly diverse for a list of "British novelists," with authors coming from a variety of backgrounds. 

"There are three writers with African backgrounds," Granta editor John Freeman writes in his introduction, "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."

The partial Texan in question in Benjamin Markovits, who was born in California and grew up in Texas, London, and Berlin.

Zadie Smith, 37, is on the list for the second time, as is Adam Thirwell, 36.  Both were selected in 2003.  Other familiar names are Sarah Hall, who has been on the Booker shortlist, and Adam Foulds, the former forklift operator whose novel "A Quickening Maze" took on the life of poet John Clare.

Less well-known is Taiye Selasi, whose first novel, "Ghana Must Go," was just released last month.  The writer and photographer was born in London, to a Ghanaian father and Nigerian mother, educated at Yale and Oxford, and now lives in Italy.  David Szalay, author of three novels, will also be a new name to many, as will Sunjeev Sahota, whose first novel, "Ours Are the Streets," details a young British Muslim's path to radicalization.

Many of the authors are not native Brits: Nadifa Mohamed, whose debut novel, "Black Mamba Boy," was long-listed for the Orange Prize in 2010, was born in Somalia, while Xiaolu Guo, author of seven novels in English and Chinese, was born in a Chinese fishing village and studied in Beijing.  Kamila Shamsie, author of five novels, is still technically Pakistani but will receive British citizenship in a few months.

The diversity came as a surprise, according to Freeman, as "not once during our proceedings did we talk about the need for diversity, or gender balance, or a multiplicity of background."  He writes that "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."

As might have been predicted, the list is already causing debate: In the Guardian, critic Theo Tait said that while there was some "exceptional writing," it was "mostly solid, old-fashioned storytelling of hit-and-miss, boil-in-the-bag postmodernism."

The full list, with biographies of the writers, can be found here.


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