The New Yorker 20 under 40


"The New Yorker"The New Yorker came out with their list of 20 writers under 40 worth watching. Writers who they feel are the “defining voices” of a generation. Apparently they compile such lists a little less than once a decade. The last one from 1999 included Michael Chabon, David Foster Wallace, and Jonathan Franzen amongst others, which apparently means that the editors at The New Yorker feel somewhat vindicated with the process.

At first I was surprised that I had not heard of a single writer on this new list. Then I was surprised that I was surprised. Part of the reason for creating the list is to highlight new and emerging writers. And more to the point, I pretty much ignore the literary world. Once words like “hauntingly beautiful” or “nuanced” or “brooding” are used to describe a book, I run the other way. Once it becomes a writer’s job to define a whole dang generation, I hide. I fear plotless vignettes created purely for the sake of the language itself. I shudder at the complete disregard for story.

How things have changed. There was a time when I felt it my duty as a writer to be published in The New Yorker. This was right before I would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, by the age of 40, which pretty much makes every writer on this new list a slacker by my old standards. I even went so far as to write to get guidelines from The New Yorker, claiming that I felt it my duty to be rejected by them on my path to writerhood. They sent my self-addressed stamped envelope back eight months later with a tiny note on New Yorker stationary, that basically said “we have no guidelines as such.” Apparently, the sort of story they buy is too esoteric to be described, even by the editors who buy them.

I never did send them anything. By the time I got the note back I had already absconded into the bowels of genre fiction. From there, I jumped into writing kid lit, which is wonderfully refreshing. It has no concept of genre. You tell kids that a book is “nuanced” or that it will “define their generation,” and they look for another book. But even so, perhaps I should nudge my reader toe back into the literary, expand my horizons a bit. At the very least I could try one of the names above from the old list, which is presumably now the geezer list. Any recommendations?

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