Granta 111 launches
Emily Greenhouse reports on the launch of a landmark issue.
‘I feel like Methuselah,’ began Salman Rushdie, introducing a reading from Granta 109. ‘I first appeared in Granta 3’, thirty years ago, he reminded his audience. ‘That’s pre-post-modern.’
Rushdie was joined by contributors A.L. Kennedy, Elizabeth McCracken and Richard Russo for a panel on Granta writing, past and present. Held at the British Library, last night’s event, chaired by Editor John Freeman, marked the launch of issue 111: Going Back – and of the online archive, which allows immediate access of all issues from 1 to 111.
John Freeman, Elizabeth McCracken and Salman Rushdie
Each writer on the panel recounted how he or she first became a Granta author – in certain cases, how they first heard of the magazine.
Russo spoke of feeling part of a movement as soon as he appeared in Granta 19: More Dirt. ‘I was thrilled,’ he said, ‘but also surprised: I didn’t feel that dirty! I remember looking at the piece (‘Fishing with Wussy’), and thinking, maybe it should be dirtier.’
A.L. Kennedy was chosen to appear in Granta as a Best Young British Novelist. Salman Rushdie was on the judging panel. She told the audience that she hadn’t – and hasn’t – always met such luck in submitting her pieces to magazines like Granta. That’s the point of submitting, though, she said – ‘You’re not in it most of the time: which makes it good.’
Elizabeth McCracken pointed out that she was unique in being chosen to appear in Granta 54: Best of Young American Novelists before a novel of hers had been published. This, she explained, landed her firmly on the ‘Who the hell?!’ side of the issue’s author spectrum (which begins, in her imagination, with the ‘Why, of course!’ authors).
Bill Buford, the editor responsible for the magazine’s 1979 relaunch at Cambridge university, ‘grabbed’ Rushdie at a Jonathan Cape Christmas party just months after he reimagined the magazine. Buford then 'dragged' the surprised author across the room towards a briefcase full of copies of the issue, which contained two chapters of Midnight’s Children in print. Rushdie had had no idea. ‘Basically,’ he chuckled, ‘Bill stole it.’
The conversation turned to the construction of memoir. Russo, whose novels centre on a hometown just like his own, has until this issue never fully confronted the real Gloversville. He confessed his impulse to write about the mysteries of his parents, his grandparents, his hometown – but never his own life.
Rushdie divulged that he has begun writing his memoir, after years of inaccurate articles about his life written by others, and general prompting at cocktail parties. Eventually, he realized, ‘the only way to get rid of these myths is to tell the story.’
The discussion rounded off with an audience question about young writer lists, such as Granta’s ‘Best of Young’ author series, or the New Yorker’s recent, much-discussed ‘20 under 40’ selection.
Russo, who just helped compile a similar list as editor of The Best American Short Stories 2010, warned of the dangers of ascribing genius judging by youth alone. ‘Great talent,’ he said, ‘does always announce itself. What it doesn’t always do is announce itself right on schedule.’
Whether the lists are to be trumpeted on high, or vilified, or ignored, the four writers agreed that it’s better to have them than not at all. ‘It’s a nice thing,’ McCracken closed, ‘to start vicious arguments about literature.’
Richard Russo and A.L. Kennedy
The evening ended with drinks in the lobby, among special exhibits of previously unseen letters, cover art and back issues of the magazine from before its ’79 reincarnation. A typewriter was also on hand for anonymous messages - a poem was left which, we’d like to think, was intended to capture both the ephemeral nature of a literary panel, and the permanence of the literature itself…:
ink is excreted
to delay predators
when you read this
i will be gone
An audio recording of the event will be available soon. Visit our events page to see details for the rest of the week – including this evening’s panel, ‘Is America Over?’, a discussion at Foyles on Charing Cross Road at 6.30 p.m. with Richard Russo and Elizabeth McCracken.