The prestigious literary magazine Granta, based in London, has been anointing the best new writers for decades, often predicting some of the world's biggest names (they discovered a new writer on the scene named Salman Rushdie, for example). But for the winter issue this year, the editors turned away from Britain and America and to Spain and Latin America, choosing to dedicate an issue to the best new writing emerging from the Spanish-speaking world.
Granta Editor John Freeman and his colleague Valerie Miles spoke to host Don Gonyea from London and Barcelona, respectively, about the latest issue of the journal and why they decided to focus their attention on Latin American voices.
"It's the degree of talent that's working in the Spanish language today," Freeman explains. "We've done three best young British novelist issues -- the first one found Salman Rushdie and Kazuo Ishiguro and Julian Barnes. For the past seven years, we've had Granta en espanol in Spain, run by Valerie, and they've been talking to us about young writers who are emerging, and it felt long overdue that we acknowledge this talent."
More than a third of the writers in the new issue hail from Argentina, a location that Miles says is ripe with literary talent. "A lot of it has to do with the fact that Argentina is a country with a very long and strong literary tradition," she says. "But it also has to do with the fact that it has wonderful bookstores. Some of the really great and really important publishing companies that ran away from Franco's Spain ended up in Argentina, and it's very exciting to see what's going on there."
One of the Argentine writers featured is Lucia Puenzo, whose story "Cohiba" focuses on life in Havana. Miles says Puenzo is so exciting because of her ability to play with form and tense.
"She has a very interesting approach to writing, which is that she likes the present tense," Miles says of Puenzo. "While she is writing, she opens narrative bubbles where even in flashback she's writing in the present tense."
Miles goes on to read a passage from "Cohiba":
The street is a psychotic migratory wave: people walking in groups, nobody going in the same direction. They walk with the same sluggish gait, crushed by the heat and lack of air. Along the banks a string of large, run-down houses and mansions from the colonial period now converted into human dovecotes, one family per room, are all in the same state: peeling paint, broken glass, tall weeds, holes in the ceilings and walls.
"I like the directness of Lucia's writing," Miles continues. "The fact that she puts that together with a present-tense narration gives an immediacy to the story I think is very interesting."
Freeman notes that he is a big fan of Andres Felipe Solano, who wrote a story called "The Cuervo Brothers" (excerpted below).
"The narrator goes to school with the Cuervo brothers; there's all kinds of rumors about them, that they're gay, that their mother does terrible things for work," Freeman explains. "If anyone has ever gone to a new school and there's new kids there, these are the kinds of things that multiply."
So is the next Jonathan Franzen or Martin Amis hiding out in Latin America, waiting to be discovered? Miles believes so.
"I'm sure we're going to see prizes," she asserts. "As a matter of fact, Pablo Gutierrez, one of the lesser-known writers, just won the National Critics Award. So I do think we are going to see really exciting things from these authors in the future."