July 26, 2012
Granta goes to China
by Sal Robinson
First the New York Times, now Granta: Chinese editions are on a roll. (A “spring roll”? Hold your groans.)
Paper Republic, a great blog that focuses on Chinese literature in translation and Chinese publishing, reports that a Chinese edition of Granta will be published this fall. The project is being directed by the private (not state-owned) publishing company, Shanghai 99 Readers Culture, and will include both pieces from the UK magazine and other content. Paper Republic points out that this type of engagement is new; whereas many Chinese publishing houses simply buy the foreign copyright and take it from there, the staff of 99 Readers will be in close touch with the Granta editors and will work to promote the authors published in the magazines in China at book fairs and through 99 Readers’ mighty online bookstore and book club.
Over on the website of the Chinese literary bimonthly, Chutzpah!, there’s an interview from last November with John Freeman and Ellah Allfrey, editor and deputy editors of Granta respectively, and Chutzpah! editor Ou Ning, in which Freeman discusses the Chinese issue, so you can get a sense of how the Granta-ites were thinking about the project before it became a reality, and what it’s like to run a literary magazine in China at the moment: Ou Ning comments that for Chutzpah!‘s own “Sex” issue (and god almighty, am I sick of the idea of a “Sex” issue, but that’s another matter—maybe they do some good), they couldn’t find any good Chinese writing about sex. They had to turn to a Taiwanese writer. Ou Ning also registers some understandable annoyance about the fact that when he told people he was going to start a literary magazine, they all asked him if it would be a Chinese New Yorker. And John Freeman describes Bill Buford as fat, insane, sloppy, and oh by the way brilliant.
What I’m curious about at the moment though is what readers and writers from the countries and languages where Granta has done a sort of “visiting” issue—Pakistan in 2010, “Best Young Spanish Language Novelists,” also in 2010, the upcoming “Best Young Brazilian Novelists,” perhaps a Chinese issue down the road—feel about the selections. Fundamentally, I feel like a China-themed issue is less interesting than those old mysterious Granta themes, like “What Happened Next,” because with a theme like that, you could get Chinese writers, Brazilian writers, Pakistani writers, all in one issue. You may not have gotten very many of those writers, it’s true, or you may have gotten British writers writing about China. But there were fewer of the potential drawbacks of the “Granta does China” idea. For one thing, if you do a whole Brazil issue one year, what happens if one of those writers writes something else next year that’s as good or better than the piece in the all-Brazil-bonanza? How much long-term support are these “discoveries” getting? Is it all a kind of hand-the-baton-to-publishers set-up?
It’s an honest question (set of questions…) I have, not a leading one. Interested readers out there, what do you think?
Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.