Bloomers At Large / Features

Bloomers At Large

Tonight, on the eve following Bloom’s launch, the National Book Foundation will celebrate its annual “5 Under 35” awards.  When I received the invitation to the event and saw the date, I thought, How ironic.  But the next thought I had was, How great.  Because Bloom’s mission and focus is meant to help complete the  conversation around creative development in the literary community/media, not compete (that “l” is important).  We present these links to commentary about youth-oriented recognition in the spirit of expanding discussions about literary accomplishment—to advocate for “both/and” not “either/or.”

At the Observer in December 2010, Matthew Hunte wrote, in response to the New Yorker‘s release of its “20 Under 40” anthology:  “By presuming a particular career arc that tends to obscure ‘late bloomers,’ these mostly well-intentioned exercises undercut their usefulness […] Instead of highlighting new talent, they inadvertently end up championing precocity and nurturing a culture where early recognition and promise are conflated with achievement.”  At the same time, he appreciates that, while “reactions [to lists like these] are sometimes polarizing—indeed, that’s the whole point—it is reassuring that despite assertions otherwise, people still care about fiction enough to quarrel.”  At The Millions, novelist Martha Southgate raised the “both/and” question in terms of awards and fellowships, i.e. that there seem to be many more goodies out there for the young than for older writers. “It’s about the extraordinary and damaging degree to which youth gets exalted in the status game of publishing and publicity. Not to take anything away from the many talented folks under 40, but where are the non-Pulitzer/National Book Award-level prizes for those of us who’ve been in there pitching for a while? Where’s The New Yorker’s ’20 Over 40?”  At Works in Progress, author Joe Schuster (now a contributing writer here at Bloom) in fact provided his own “20 Over 40” list and noted: “The most significant problem with lists like these […] is that they suggest (and here I borrow a cliché players often use when they talk about a baseball season) that a career as a writer is something of a sprint, rather than the marathon it is.”  Like Hunte, Schuster recognizes the value of such lists: “I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that any of the writers on this year’s list or the one from 1999 do not merit celebration. Writing brilliantly—even writing well—is difficult, and any means we have to recognize excellence is a good thing.”

The staff of independent bookstore Politics and Prose also created their own list—of an alternative 20 Under 40. Focusing less on the value of the lists themselves, and more on the reality that “There’s no room for an infinite number of winners at the Olympics,” they offered names of young authors they felt deserved notice.  And on the lighter side, at Gawker, Max Read offered, for spurned young writers, “How to Complain About the New Yorker’s Favorite 20 Under 40.”  “You aren’t on the list, and therefore, the list sucks. The thing is, you don’t want to sound bitter when you complain about it to your Tumblr followers/barber/kidnap victim. The key is to be as dismissive as possible.”

Finally, an article at The Guardian looked at the “20 Under 40” phenomenon from multiple angles—helpful validation for a young writer, benefit to readers looking for new authors to discover, and also the flip side of early recognition.  Novelist Phillip Hensher, one of Granta‘s best young British novelists in 2003, at the age of 37, said that the recognition made his publishing career “a bit easier overseas,” but also: “Novel writing isn’t necessarily something that young people are very good at. I was 29 when I published my first novel, but I wish I’d waited.” Hensher also commented on a possible bias toward men: “There’s a well-known phenomenon of the woman novelist who puts off her career, maybe to have children,” said Hensher, “so she doesn’t really make an impact until after she’s 40 … a good example is Penelope Fitzgerald, who only emerged about five years before the first Granta list, and of course she was 60.”

2 thoughts on “Bloomers At Large

  1. If Bloom’s mission is to help complete the conversation, will they (or The Millions) or anybody else out there create a best 20 over 40 or 20 over 50 or even 20 over 60 list? I’d love to see that. But I’m happy to see the creation of this site.

  2. A 20 Over 40 list is a great idea, Marlene. See Joe Schuster’s list at Works-in-Progress, mentioned above. I wouldn’t be surprised if other such lists (by Bloom or someone else) begin to materialize soon!

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