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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why Diversity Matters As Exhibited by Granta's Best Young American Novelists

Every 10 years, the prestigious British literary magazine, Granta releases a list of the best American novelists under 40. They have just released their third list which includes 21 authors. You can see all of them here. The list also includes the author of one of my favorite books I read last year.

I am not going to waste your time by reprinting the list [click through for that] because there is a more important point I want to make about this list-- IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN DIVERSE; even before it was "cool" to be diverse. But more than that, THIS HISTORY OF INCLUDING DIVERSE VOICES MATTERS!

One of my most memorable book memories happened because of the release of the first Granta list. In honor of that list, there was an event in Chicago where I got to see a very young Sherman Alexie and Elizabeth McCracken both do a reading because they were one that list. McCracken was a pioneer in the current trend of mixing elements of horror and dread into literary fiction. And Alexie! I can't even imagine being a Readers Advisor without him.

I live in an area with few Native Americans, yet many of his books, especially The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, have been among my go-to suggestions for any reader looking for a good read for my entire career. From my first days as a librarians back in the summer of 2000, until today, both of those authors became among my top suggestions for those just looking for "a good read." Without that Granta list and seeing them read, I don't know if  I would have known about those authors so early.

At the time, [late 90s], I did not think anything of Alexie being Native American. He was an amazing writer. But, looking back, I guess it was a big deal. Most of those lists were mostly filled with white men.

The announcement of this new list illustrates that like America itself, the landscape our best young novelists is diverse, but it made me remember back to that first list.  [By the way, in between, the second list included Jonathan Safran Foer, Nicole Krauss, Akhil Sharma, Anthony Doerr, Nell Freudenberger, Gary Shteyngart and Yiyun Li among others.]

But I digress. The point I am trying to make by sharing this story about me 20 years ago is that all this talk about making sure we include diverse authors in everything is 100% true. As someone who always made sure to read diversely [I even made my students read at least 1 book from an under represented community the entire time I taught; it was to get them in the habit for after they left my oversight], I still would not have known about Alexie so early if he wasn't included.

That is a testament to Granta. Kudos to them for leading the way by identifying the best authors across the full spectrum of the American experience. And thank you from this librarian, today, and back in the days before I was even in library school, for showing me the best authors and allowing me to share their stories with readers.

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