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Posts Tagged ‘Olga Grushin’

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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Scene @ Granta Young Novelists Party

grantaparty.jpgTypically, relying on a cameraphone to convey the joie de vivre at Cafe Loup last night after nine of Granta‘s Best Young American Novelists read and spoke about their work at the New School‘s Tishman Auditorium leads to blurry, non-specific photographs like the one to the left. But even if the persons captured are hard to identify (Nell Freudenberger‘s in the center, that’s about all who is recognizable) those who attended both reading and afterparty generally had themselves a good time. I got to the reading on the late side, missing out on readings by Gary Shteyngart (whose oratory skills convinced at least one reader to pick up a copy of ABSURDISTAN), Olga Grushin, Akhil Sharma and Daniel Alarcon – handpicked by Ian Jack and Matt Weiland to read on the alleged grounds that they wrote non-American settings, or were born outside of America, depending on whom was asked (when I asked Jack and Weiland about it, each deferred to the other, which was actually pretty funny.)

The other five – Freudenberger, Jess Row, John Wray, Uzodinma Iweala and Gabe Hudson – didn’t read but took questions from the audience. One that elicited the most amusing answers was the old standby “why do you write?” Because, evidently, that’s all they can do or, as Shteyngart and Wray explained, they had been fired from any other job each tried.

An early beeline to Cafe Loup along with Lizzie Skurnick, Kathy Daneman and Rachel Grady (co-director of JESUS CAMP) meant exchanging greetings with Kate Lee, Elizabeth Spiers and Sloane Crosley, who were having dinner with Whit Stillman. (I also thought I spotted Ian Spiegelman at the far end of the table.)

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Meet your Granta Best of Young American Novelists

Granta announced its second-ever list of Best of Young American Novelists, comprised of 21 American-based authors aged 35 and under. And what’s immediately apparent, just as with the first list published back in 1996, is how many of them, um, haven’t published novels yet. Which isn’t to say it isn’t a fine list of American writers, but considering Granta publisher Sigrid Rausing went out of her way to namecheck notable writers who didn’t make the cut, like Benjamin Kunkel, Benjamin Markovits and Joshua Ferris, would it have been so difficult to actually restrict the list to those who truly fit the criteria of the title? Or if not, then call a spade a spade; this is the Best of Young American Writers, although that probably isn’t as pretty an acronym.

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In the back row, from the left, judges Edmund White, Meghan O’Rourke (with Paul Yamazaki‘s ear just visible behind her), Matt Weiland of Granta, A.M. Homes, and Sigrid Rausing. In the front, from left, young American novelists John Wray, Akhil Sharma, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Uzodinma Iweala, Olga Grushin, Karen Russell, Gary Shteyngart, and Gabe Hudson.

Anyway, there was much merriment to be had at the Housing Works announcement party last night. Apart from those writers who appeared for their ceremonial investiture, other boldface names in the crowd included Random House editor-in-chief Daniel Menaker (sporting an unexplained bandage on his nose), Eric Chinski, David Roth-Ey (vying for “tallest man” status with Paul Slovak), Lorraine Adams, Alison Callaghan, Rachel Fershleiser (ably working the joint in her capacity as Housing Works volunteer), John Freeman (when not busily filing wire reports on the LA Times Book Festival Award nominations or Granta’s list), and Wendy Weil…along with a few others Ron photographed.