The Next Big Things: The New Yorker’s 20 under 40 List

The editors of the New Yorker have constructed a list of the 20 best authors under 40 years of age. This must be one hell of a daunting task and, while I don’t envy the arguments that will inevitably ensue over perceived, extant or absent talent, I’d still quite like to overhear them.

The list is in the double fiction issue due to hit news-stands now (add an -ish to that for the NZ market) and promises some fantastic reading.

It’s hard to get one’s head around the talent on display here, just sitting there on the page, twiddling its thumbs as it awaits your casting eye. The prodigious power of conventional and unconventional writing contained in this one issue is like walking into your Saturday morning tennis club finals and finding Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters waiting for a hit up. The last time the New Yorker assembled a list like this was in 1999. Many on that list, like Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz, have gone on to establish themselves in the literary firmament while others have blazed more brightly but then departed, like the incomparable David Foster Wallace.

The new list of authors are as follows:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (32); Chris Adrian (39) Daniel Alarcón (33); David Bezmozgis (37); Sarah Shun-lien Bynum (38); Joshua Ferris (35); Jonathan Safran Foer (33); Nell Freudenberger (35); Rivka Galchen (34); Nicole Krauss (35); Yiyun Li (37); Dinaw Mengestu (31); Philipp Meyer (36); C. E. Morgan (33); Téa Obreht (24); Z Z Packer (37); Karen Russell (28); Salvatore Scibona (35); Gary Shteyngart (37); and Wells Tower (37).

See the list plus author interviews and extracts here.

10 Women, 10 men – a happy accident according to the New Yorker editors. Also, as a pre-condition, the writers had to submit a piece of short work for the magazine – those that couldn’t were removed from the list. I’d love to see those names, the excluded ones; it would be like the injury list of first choice athletes on an all-star team. (My personal grudge mention would be the absence of Samantha Hunt , who, after I read The Seas and The Invention of Everything Else I would back to write many great things).

I’m really looking forward to exploring the unfamiliar writers on the list and, regarding the familiar ones, harping on at people about how, for a while now, I’ve been shaking pom-poms for them with great energy and athleticism.

Some of these names will produce even more astounding work in the coming years – it’s like the silence before a storm. But a good storm, one that invigorates and inspires rather than ripping your roof off and drowning your pet rabbit, Bobo.


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