Granta’s Best Young British Novelists

April 15, 2013

The London-based literary journal Granta has announced its new list of “Best Young British Novelists.” The inventory of 20 writers under 40 years old comes out every decade to crown established prodigies and raise others into the light.

Editor John Freeman — an American — noted that Granta has been “startlingly accurate” at predicting who we’ll be reading in the future. If the judges “were stock pickers,” he jokes, “they would have their own global funds.” Since 1983, the journal’s lists of “Best Young British Novelists” has included Pat Barker, Julian Barnes, Alan Hollinghurst, David Mitchell, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson, which makes the editors look prescient, indeed.

Some of the writers on this new list, such as Benjamin Markovits and Helen Oyeyemi, are already fairly well established. Zadie Smith has been a bright star for so long that it’s surprising to realize that she can still sit with the kids under 40 (she was on the 2003 list, too). Others — Sarah Hall and Joanna Kavenna — have attracted much deserved critical praise even if their books haven’t sold as well as their fans (me included) would like.

But many of these names are delightfully fresh. Jenni Fagan published her first novel, “The Panopticon,” last year. Taiye Selasi published her debut, “Ghana Must Go,” just last month.

More than 150 British writers applied for inclusion. Freeman notes that this list, Granta’s fourth, is the first to include more women than men, and that they come from many countries around the world — China, New South Wales, Canada, etc. But “not once during our proceedings did we talk about the need for diversity, or gender balance, or a multiplicity of background,” Freeman says in his introduction. (Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie is not yet a British citizen but is “on her way to becoming one.”)

The full list:

  • Naomi Alderman
  • Tahmima Anam
  • Ned Beauman
  • Jenni Fagan
  • Adam Foulds
  • Xiaolu Guo
  • Sarah Hall
  • Steven Hall
  • Joanna Kavenna
  • Benjamin Markovits
  • Nadifa Mohamed
  • Helen Oyeyemi
  • Ross Raisin
  • Sunjeev Sahota
  • Taiye Selasi
  • Kamila Shamsie
  • Zadie Smith
  • David Szalay
  • Adam Thirlwell
  • Evie Wyld

The spring issue of Granta, on sale this week for $16.99, includes excepts from these writers’ upcoming fiction and author photos by the celebrated photographer Nadav Kander, who is older than 40 — even older than 50 — but still somehow manages to do gorgeous work.

On May 8, Freeman will be at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington along with some of the novelists he and his fellow judges chose for this issue. For more information call 202-364-1919.

Follow on Twitter @RonCharles.

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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