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American Readers: Rising Up or Fading Out?

1242299192488.jpgOn Friday afternoon, American readers were praised, teased, and celebrated during a lively BEA panel discussion moderated by Granta‘s newly-appointed acting editor, John Freeman. The editor grilled novelists Olga Grushin, Sherman Alexie, and Paul Auster about the literary journal’s new fiction issue and American letters.

Alexie made a controversial point about readership: “All of us are writing for college-educated middle-aged white women,” he said. “Look around you. Count!” The audience ruefully complied, testing his generalization.

Grushin recalled how she moved to the United States as a 17-year-old student and read American writers for a year straight, hoping to strike up literary conversations. “I thought I could come here and talk to people about what I read–boy was I wrong!” she said, and the audience giggled nervously. She recounted telling an American teenager that her favorite authors were Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I’ve never read those Russian writers,” replied her young friend.

Auster concluded the discussion with an unwavering faith in his country’s pool of writers. “This is what makes American literature so vital–it’s so full of talent that these things bubble up anyway; despite the recession, despite declining literacy rates, there are as many poets now as there ever was.”

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