Writing about Granta’s “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists 2”
Just about a decade ago, Granta released their first ever list of “young Spanish-language novelists.” This was a momentous occasion for a number of reasons, starting with the point that, until then, only young British and American writers had been featured by the magazine. (There had been three lists of best British novelists, and two iterations focused on Americans at that point. There are now four and three lists, respectively.) As a British magazine trafficking in well-known, commercially viable writers, this makes some sort of sense, even if it does send a weird dismissive message, as if international authors weren’t as worthy of such manufactured buzz as Brits or Yanks.
But then Sigrid Rausing, Valerie Miles, and Aurelio Major turned things around. Granta en español came into existence, bringing some of those same British and American writers to Spanish readers before producing it’s own list, which drew from Spanish writers across two continents, many of whom have gone on to become darlings of that growing group of readers interested in reading the world.
If 2019 feels like it was a decade ago, 2010 seems like another century. Social media was still ascendent, with Instagram having just come into existence in October of the same year, and TikTok still some six years away. Facebook was still the best place to find out how your high school enemies lives turned out (usually poorly), and blogs (like this one) were still commonplace, subversive, and distasteful to mainstream media.
Open Letter was in its third year of publishing, Transit/New Vessel/Deep Vellum were yet to be born, and AmazonCrossing had just launched. The Best Translated Book Award was finding its footing, there was no National Book Award for Translation, nor the International Man Booker we know of today. Back in the fall of 2010, the current “boom” of interest in translated literature was just about to get going.
When some combination of Valerie Miles and John Freeman and Saskia Vogel told me about the forthcoming list of young Spanish-language writers, I jumped at the chance to help promote this on Three Percent. It was kind of the perfect project for the uber-manic, never sleeping Chad W. Post of 2010. A post a day! About Spanish-language lit! A chance to scout for future talent while writing quirky articles? SIGN ME UP. I mean, shit, my first actual post was called “22 Days of Awesome” and included this:
There’s something special about the great Spanish-language works . . . They can be as philosophically complicated as the French (see Juan Jose Saer’s Nouveau Roman influenced novels), while still remaining very grounded, emotional (see all of Manuel Puig), and others represent the epitome of wordplay and linguistic gamesmanship (see Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers).
Not trying to say that Spanish-language literature is better than that of other languages—I’m just trying to explain why I’m so drawn to it, why we published Latin American authors make up such a large portion of Open Letter’s list (Macedonio Fernandez, Juan Jose Saer, Alejandro Zambra, Sergio Chejfec, not to mention the Catalan writers, which, though vastly different in language, have a sort of kinship with their fellow Spanish writers). And why I read so many Spanish works in my “free time,” why I love Buenos Aires, the tango, etc. . . .
Regardless, when I found out that Granta was releasing a special issue of the “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists,” I was psyched. (This really hits at the crux of my obsessions: Spanish literature and lists.) I tried to tease names from the forthcoming list out of the wonderful Saskia Vogel and the multi-talented John Freeman, but neither would give away any secrets. So when the list was finally announced, I was doubly pleased to see that six of the authors on there either already are published by Open Letter or will be in the near future.
It’s funny how so many things remain the same (see our 2020-2023 onslaught of Spanish-language titles), even as we all get more and more tired and our best stories are relegated to a former time. (Remember when I was a literary consultant for Lost? Fuck time.)
Going back to the comparison of how things worked in 2010 vs. 2021, I don’t think we need “22 Days of Awesome” on a blog, right now. (Maybe on a Substack!) Lists themselves are so LitHub. Even the concept of “best” has become a bit more fraught as we scrutinize the racial and class make-up of the “gatekeepers.”
That all said, I’m really excited to read this new issue, this new list, to reflect on it, and, in the spirit of 2010 Chad, to “give each author attention and congratulations.” But I don’t think I can do it one-by-one, day-by-day, featuring each author in the way we did back then—despite how fun that was at the time.
So instead, I’m going to do something(s) different. You’ll have to stay tuned to see exactly how this all turns out (spoiler: not how I will plan it), but in the spirit of Rodrigo Fresán—Open Letter author and member of the Granta jury—I thought I’d get into the spirit of things by creating a list of possible ways to write about the second list of “best young Spanish-language novelists”:
- Create a list of the “best non-young Spanish-language novelists,” who are all over 60, and write about their debut books as if they came out in 2021;
- Find all the Spanish-language novelists who didn’t qualify for the two iterations of the “best of,” either because they lacked a formal fiction publication (see Valeria Luiselli in 2010) or are weeks too old (see Juan Gomez Barcena this year), and match them up with counterparts from this issue;
- Do a statistical analysis of how many books are published and/or translated by the authors included in any and all of the Granta lists for the ten years following that issue’s publication. Write a long piece mediating on the concept of success and whether these Granta lists are predictive or reflective, if they represent buzz or create. (I have a hypothesis about this, and have actually started doing the research, so . . . );
- Instead of covering every author based on what they’ve done so far, write literary “obituaries” for them from the viewpoint of the end of their career. Which of the twenty-five included authors will win the Nobel? Which will be endlessly reprinted, and which will go total recluse, only to leave behind a treasure trove of literary gems?;
- Take this “best of” thing way, way too seriously and make a shortlist of five authors from these twenty-five and choose one to be the “best of the best of Granta 2″;
- Using the techniques of erasure poetry, create a new short story out of words and phrases from the entire issue;
- Or, none of the above;
- Or, all of the above.
Overall, I have one major goal: Present this issue in a way that’s fun. Not necessarily as a cheerleader (like in 2010), nor as a jaded reader, but in a way that engages with each piece and/or grouping of authors in a different, imaginative way.
Again, stay tuned. I read five pieces over the weekend, and some strange shit is brewing in my head.