From Granta to ‘Freeman’s’

John Freeman, editor of "Freeman's," a biannual anthology published by Grove/Atlantic. (Photo credit Deborah Treisman)
John Freeman, editor of “Freeman’s,” a biannual anthology to be published by Grove/Atlantic and the New School. (Deborah Treisman)

When I first met John Freeman years ago, he was rumored to be the most productive book reviewer in the country. As president of the National Book Critics Circle, he shook that organization out of its slumber. And then he went on to edit Granta, drawing in dozens of prominent writers and raising the magazine’s prominence around the world.

But it’s been little more than a year since he stopped editing Granta, and during that time he’s been teaching in New York and writing his own books at the pace of a mere mortal.

Nobody expected that to last long.

Now comes word that he’s back with his most ambitious and personal project yet: Grove/Atlantic and the New School have announced that Freeman will edit a series of anthologies called “Freeman’s.”

“I missed the collaboration that comes with literary journal life,” he said, “that sense of engagement and shared purpose and sleeplessness.”

If there’s one thing Freeman knows better than books, it’s sleeplessness.

Earlier this year, while editing an anthology about New York and economic inequality, he began considering how he could continue the kind of work he enjoyed doing so much at Granta. He developed a proposal that sounds a little like Lapham’s Quarterly: an anthology of fiction, nonfiction and poetry built around a theme — but all the pieces in “Freeman’s” will be new.

“I want it to be a home for the long form,” Freeman said from London, “as well as writing that feels possessed, like only that writer could have done it. I hope it introduces new writers, and coaxes great ones to do something other than book-length writing. There will probably be a photo essay in the middle.”

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Granta.

Freeman will assemble his themed anthologies from submissions and assigned pieces. He thinks of his ideal reader as “people who are curious, crazed for fiction, morally engaged, disturbed by the status quo, and who want a reliable guide for the best writers alive.”

The current plan is to publish two anthologies a year. “One of the most common complaints about journals,” he said, “is that they come out too frequently for most of their subscribers to keep up.” His first anthology — paperback, possibly with flaps — should appear in October 2015. Details are still developing, but he’s exploring the option of selling the anthology in bookstores and by subscription.

Grove/Atlantic used to distribute Granta in bookstores, so president and publisher Morgan Entrekin already knows Freeman. “He’s one the great forces in American letters,” Entrekin said. “To me the idea is that you create a little bit of a brand and continuity so that every time we’re not starting from scratch. You can tell from John’s track record that he’s capable of producing very high quality on whatever theme or subject that we choose together.”

Entrekin likens “Freeman’s” to “The Best American Short Stories” series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. But that comparison only goes so far. “We’re kind of thinking that we’re inventing a new form — the journalogy? the anthournal?”

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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