Saturday, June 19, 2010

The New Yorker List, the Dzanc List

Much has been written about the "20 Under 40" list promulgated by The New Yorker: "twenty young writers who capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction." A lot of people (most writers other than the 20 who made the list, it seems) are critical of the list--the age cutoff is meaningless, small and independent presses aren't represented, etc. The editors of the magazine are careful to point out that the gender balance on the list was accidental, but I doubt that anyone believes them. It's also a creditably diverse list in other ways.

And completely useless. (But not to TNY and Farrar Strauss & Giroux who will publish an anthology of work by these authors, making the whole exercise, apparently, a clever marketing gimmick.)

Indie presses are responding. Under the leadership of Dzanc Books and the Emerging Writers Network (both the brain-children of Dan Wickett), a new list is being formulated. As a blogger I received an email inviting me to nominate writers for the list, which is being created primarily from names submitted by a number of small presses. I declined the invitation, but the list will be generated without my input. In fact, I've seen many of the names being considered for the list, and there are some fine writers included. It will be a nice feather in their cap to be on a list that will draw them a little attention and will generate some little controversy and, probably, give even MORE attention to The New Yorker's list.

But such a list is also, ultimately, meaningless. And I don't say that because I'm unlikely to be on it. (Actually, my absence is a certainty, but "unlikely" sounds more hopeful!) The nominations for the list come from a tiny pool of independent presses. There are thousands of deserving writers who won't be considered just because it's impossible to examine everyone.

But a few writers will benefit, and that's fine. Someone might even publish an anthology.

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