Since Granta’s inaugural list of the Best of Young British Novelists in 1983 – which featured stories by Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Pat Barker and Graham Swift – the Best of Young issues have been some of the magazine’s most influential. We published two more Best of Young British Novelists lists, in 1993 and 2003 – with the next due out in 2013 – and lists for American novelists in 1996 and 2007. The titles have become milestones on the literary landscape, predicting talent as much as spotting it.
In 2011 Granta em Português announced the publication of The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, published in Portuguese in July 2012 and in English, Autumn 2012. Granta editor John Freeman spoke to Granta em Português editor Marcelo Ferronio about choosing the writers, Brazilian inspiration and the judges of the competition.
JF: Do you think there is a generation of writers under forty doing something new in Brazil, and if so, how would you characterize them?
MF: I think there’s a vibrant new generation of writers, trying to do something very different with Brazilian literature. They’re still drawing heavily from the Brazilian literary tradition, but at the same time they’re absorbing a series of references from foreign authors and popular culture. So, what you have are texts that are less experimental, with less of a focus on Brazilian cultural issues, but with truly original ideas.
How do young writers in Brazil differ from the generations before them? Which writers seem to loom large for them as models or inspirations?
There are a few Brazilian classics that are still crucial to new Brazilian authors, such as Clarice Lispector and Guimarães Rosa. Machado de Assis – maybe our greatest novelist – is still mentioned by many of them. The modernists in Brazil (such as Oswald de Andrade) left a heritage that’s still very important for a number of authors in Rio and São Paulo. But, at the same time that Brazilian authors are deeply influential, there’s been a change in the way we assimilate foreign fiction.there’s been a change in the way we assimilate foreign fiction. Bolaño is definitely one of the strongest references in terms of foreign authors, as well as Argentinian literature in general (from Sarmiento to, say, Ricardo Piglia). We’re probably assimilating more and more of this wonderful literature that’s being, and has been, written by our Latin American peers. I don’t think it had the same impact a few years ago – Brazil was too closed to those influences – but now I feel there’s an exchange of ideas and styles among the South American countries.
Brazil, like America, and many other countries for that matter, has a huge disparity between the rich and poor. Do you expect to find someone who is writing, as they say, from the ground up?
Well, I think we could have someone like that, and I hope we have. In the past few years I’ve read interesting new voices from the poorer communities, really different from the standard Brazilian literature.
You published the Best of Young American Novelists in Portuguese in Brazil. How were they received, and what stood out in that generation for readers or critics?
It was our first edition of Granta in Portuguese, actually, and it was very well received. A few authors on this list were already relatively well known in Brazil (Jonathan Safran Foer, for instance), and others had their books published before our edition, so it might have helped that.
Tell me a little bit about the judges for Best Young Brazilian.
We have one journalist and literary critic, Manuel da Costa Pinto, who’s also the coordinator of Flip (The Paraty Literary Festival). He’s written a book on the new generation of Brazilian writers, so it was wonderful that he’s decided to join us. Italo Moriconi is a poet and scholar who has edited an important collection on the best Brazilian short stories of the twentieth century and is the curator of the next Brazilian Book Biennial. Samuel Titan is a translator and literature professor and Cristovão Tezza is one of the most important Brazilian writers today. We also have Benjamin Moser, author of a biography on Clarice Lispector, and two editors of Granta in Portuguese, Isa Pessóa and me. So I think we have a great team, with heterogeneous opinions on Brazilian literature, I’m looking forward to discussing it and creating an interesting list of young and promising authors.