The Daily

A Letter from the Editor

The New Yorker 20

June 4, 2010 | by


Meeting of young writers who write for children newspaper Yamde liy.

Chapeau! to the Parisians among the newly announced New Yorker 20. Chris Adrian, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, Nicole Krauss, Yiyun Li, and Wells Tower—we salute you!

Further chapeaux to our colleagues at The New Yorker for assembling the thing. We can hardly imagine a more thankless task. Here on White Street each of us can name writers we think should be on there, and aren’t, and others who leave us scratching our heads. (And yet, weirdly, no two of us name the same people.) Multiply that by a million subscribers, or whatever no-doubt-large fraction reads the stories … that’s a lot of Monday-evening quarterbacks.

Even on a normal week, it’s got to be tough finding stories that could conceivably interest a million different readers. In this case, there’s no falling back on household names, since with the exception of Mr. Foer, our micro generation hasn’t produced one. For reasons that may have something to do with writing programs, or Microsoft Word, or Grand Theft Auto, or just three generations of TV, we thirty-something Americans tend to languish in a protracted adolescence on the fiction-producing front. The pool of really bankable youngsters gets smaller with each passing decade, even as book and magazine publishers get more and more desperate for a bona-fide literary star. (No wonder Team Eustace has drafted a ringer from north of the border. Congratulations, Bezmozgis! The flag pin’s in the mail!)

Most of the New Yorker 20 are at work on their second or third book. It is, as David Remnick told The New York Times, “a group of promise.” May their greatest achievements lie before them, may the Muses light their way, and may the winds of fortune remain at their backs!




  1. T.L. Stokes | June 5, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Congratulations on your new blog. I look forward to reading more. And sharing you on Twitter.

  2. Helen DeWitt | June 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    A mortuis nil litterarum. The thing that unnerves me is the powerlessness of people who want to do this kind of good thing.

    If Osama Ben Laden had dropped a quick line to Gerry Howard to apprise him of his plans, Howard would no doubt – among other things – have deferred the launch date of The Subject Steve. (Other things including, presumably, apprising those in a position to deter an unprecedented act of terrorism.) I think we can see why we don’t live in that alternative universe.

    Sam Lipsyte was then close to a decade shy of the dread 40. At a time of national crisis it’s naturally bad form to care about mon petit livre. Still, my understanding is, the ill-timed launch of the book had a bad effect on sales, which in turn meant that Gerry Howard could not acquire SL’s second book, which in turn meant that much time and energy was taken up shopping the book around when Gerry Howard already thought it was brilliant. (I know you and FSG were the good guys here, but the clock was ticking.)

    David Remnick, I gather, was disappointed that Lipsyte was too old to make the cut. Which seems like another way of saying, first Gerry Howard, then David Remnick can see Lipsyte as a star and be powerless to do anything. Of COURSE, it’s terrific that the New Yorker has taken the trouble to come up with a scheme that will draw attention to 20 writers, and I don’t mean to quarrel with the list of writers chosen on these terms. But the slightly unnerving thing is, it does SL no good to be someone Remnick would have liked to see get recognition – that is, Remnick can’t just stand on a soapbox and say SAM LIPSYTE IS GREAT and so hand Lipsyte something his publishers can slap on future books that will carry as much weight as the arbitrary New Yorker 20 under 40.

    SL, I believe, has a small child and teaches MFA full-time at Columbia, so he’s hardly a slacker. Just writing 3 months a year.

    Don’t see how to say this without raining on the parade, which I really don’t like to do, but, well, amicus Plato, magis amica Veritas.

  3. Helen DeWitt | June 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    (Sorry, Howard cd not acquire SL’s third book.)

  4. Steven Augustine | June 7, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Wondering how the arbitrary age limit (why not “under 43” or “over 12”?) is relevant to *any* metric of Literary interest, anyway. This isn’t pop music and “young” doesn’t, by default, equal “fresh”… you only have to read some (if not most) of the material cited to prove that.

    Why not just put photos of fetching young models on the backs of all books, randomly? Must the photos be of the authors? Wouldn’t that fix this silly problem…?

    The point should be unearthing a few un-connected unknowns with Genuine Literary Talent of radically creative Newness. Which is decidedly not what the NYer has done here. Nor was it, sadly, their intention.

  5. Lorin Stein | June 7, 2010 at 11:28 am

    The rules of a contest are arbitrary almost by definition, don’t you think? There is always the possibility of a Sam Lipsyte Effect–an obvious winner disqualified by a silly-seeming rule.

    As a Lipsyte fan, I love what David Remnick said about Sam. But I can’t agree with the estimable Helen DeWitt that it’s a sign of editorial helplessness. After all, The New Yorker has never published one of Lipsyte’s stories (and he has done just fine without them). They are not quite in the same business. I have always assumed Lipsyte was just too raunchy, or scabrous, or alliterative–or something. The point is, no one magazine can publish everything its editor admires, especially not a mass-circulation magazine. In some very limited sense, a “New Yorker story” is like porn: hard to define, and teeming nowadays with variety, still you know one when you see it. The fact that The New Yorker can maintain rules of its own, for its contests and its fiction in general, strikes me as a sign of good health.

  6. Steven Augustine | June 7, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    “The rules of a contest are arbitrary almost by definition, don’t you think?”

    But was this a contest or a debutante ball?

    Also, I think I’m taking exception to an overall malaise (or category error) in which Lit mimics Pop with predictably soporific results.

  7. Gena | June 9, 2010 at 11:07 am

    Nice hat tipping, Lorin!

    Did you see this list, too?

  8. Liz | October 1, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    In case some of you are interested, KQED’s “The Writers’ Block” just published an episode of Yiyun Li reading from her new collection:

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