Unedited Foreword to Granta's "Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists" Issue (Part I)
This is really cool . . . Over the weekend, Aurelio Major sent me a copy of the foreword that he and Valerie Miles wrote for the special “Young Spanish Novelists” issue of Granta that’s coming out in a couple weeks. According to Aurelio, this foreword—which appears in full in the Spanish language edition—was trimmed for the English version of the magazine, leaving out some of the bits about Spanish and Hispanic American literary culture in order to reach “a wider public with perhaps less concern about context.” Well . . . It’ll be interesting to see what the differences are between this version (which is very well-crafted) and the one that appears in the official issue. Personally, I think the more context the better, although I’d love to hear what all of you think, so please feel free to comment below.
And putting aside any possibile editing controversies, what this piece really does is make me even more excited to read the issue.
The essay is pretty long, so I’m breaking this up over three posts. If you’re impatient, of just want to read the whole thing in one file, you can download the Word doc here.
Granta has never before put together a selection of the best young writers in a language other than English. The first, highly influential Best of Young British Novelists proposed a group nearly twenty five years ago. After that landmark gathering, four more “Best of young” lists were created: two for Young Americans and two more for young British writers. Now, in _Granta_’s first gleaning of young Spanish language talent, we present both renowned authhors, and less familiar names. Only a handful of them have been translated into English. We limited participation to writers under thirty five, meaning they were born after January, 1975; with at least one novel or story collection to their name. Given the proliferation of Spanish language publishing over the past few decades with access to publication made much easier, even when modest, we found it wiser to impose certain limits on such a vast universe to avoid a list of already established authors. But there are other motives. In fact, this issue is a conspiracy.
1975 marked the end of the dictatorship in Spain. It was a year of preludes and apogees of the South American dictatorships and their subsequent exiles, the end of the Viet Nam war and a time when the political opportunism of those who still venerated the other, radiant dictatorship in Cuba became apparent. There were other events: the tradition of the South American émigré writer in Paris came under examination and writers began seeking publication in Spain, first in Barcelona and later in Madrid, as the publishing industry grew in the post-Franco years. For writers born after 1975, the complex, often misleading warp and woof of politics and literature (different after the end of “actually existing” communism in 1989) is more of an exception than the rule. The censorships of the left as well as the right, black lists, forced exiles and persecution, are now ensconced in the process of transition between memory and history (except in modern day Venezuela and Cuba), and these young authors have not suffered the social and moral circumstances that perturbed their elders. When asked, many of the writers gathered here expressed skepticism, in varying degrees of reticence or nervousness or irony, over the idea of an author having an active influence in the public sphere, outside of the work itself, a role which had been an unavoidable engagement for many writers (not always the most lucid) from earlier generations. Yet now there are other perhaps more insidious censorships: those of the cultural powers that be, of the market whose forces erode the pact of a referential consensus, of the attention deficit disorder caused by a sea of virtual autism, of fleeing readerships—without readers there might be books but not literature—censorships that can be contested through strategies like the one we propose here in Granta. It’s obvious that these young writers have to fight other sorts of phobias and restrictions; but they all coincide in their admiration for many canonical authors, almost all of them read in various languages and are confronted by the same inveterate enemies of promise as those that Connolly signaled when he was thirty five: activities outside of the act of creation that serve to restrict or pervert it.
We are writing this forward before the novelists and story writers chosen know who will accompany them in this issue, which represents the culmination of the efforts which began seven years ago with the first issue of Granta en español.
Among those included by the six members of the jury, there are writers who are full of promise. For most their best work is yet to be written. By contrast, Cabrera Infante, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, Donoso or Juan Goytisolo had already written some of their fundamental books before turning thirty five. Of course that is not the case with other authors such as Saer, or Benet, who wrote their greatest works later. Despite the fact that some claim that nobody is young after thirty, it is also fair to say that the novel is almost always a product of maturity, of life lived and decanted. We felt the need to impose the thirty-five under stricture because of the eruption of numerous summary anthologies throughout the nineties, more or less improvised, and the plethora of local lists of young writers in all the Spanish speaking countries (one could almost do an anthology of anthologies) and because we wanted to be more forward looking. We had to also take into account here the readers who are not versed in the literary traditions, evolutions, tyrannies, excommunications, revolutions and betrayals of this language. Moreover, a variety of manifestos have been launched over the past few decades emulating the procedures and strategies of ideological opportunism, as a measure for crossing the threshold to recognition by the literary power establishment, in other words, as a means for survival. But time has quickly proven their insufficiencies and even their puerile nature: must it be repeated that despite attempts to collectively interrupt literary tradition (McOndo in Chile, Crack in Mexico, Nocilla in Spain), talent is individual and the irruption of a single writer can suddenly upset all readings of the past and the future? Who could have imagined fifteen years ago that the work of an outcast Chilean washed ashore in Barcelona via Mexico would exercise as wide an influence on enthusiastic young writers not only in Spanish, as Cortázar a few generations earlier? Writers, readers, critics and editors working in Spanish, feel less exasperated now that the English language references to literature in our language are no longer reduced simply to the binomial Borges-García Márquez. Now at least Bolaño is also being mentioned. But this trinity is still not enough.
Since this selection includes authors from a variety of countries and at least four regional hubs (Barcelona-Madrid, Buenos Aires, Lima-Bogotá, México), we should remember four very important moments in the literary relationships of reciprocal influence and cumulative effect between Hispanic America and Spain, always complex and unbalanced due to national peculiarities and collective susceptibilities: the commotion in Spain caused by the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío’s work within the context of the loss of the last Spanish colonies to the US in 1898; the influence of the Spanish generation of ‘27 after the Republican exile throughout Hispanic America principally in Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico within the context of the Spanish Civil war at the end of the thirties; the rise of the South American novel in Spain during the sixties in the context of the seismic Cuban revolution; and the present, which appears to be branded by the works of Bolaño and a bit earlier by Marías and Vila-Matas within the context of the radiant plebiscite populism in Venezuela, anti-globalization (anti-Americanism) and narco-terror.
Click here for Part II.