Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

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Benjamin Chambers writes:

The folks over at The Millions have got a great post showing the stats on fiction in The New Yorker for the past six years: male/female ratio, frequency with which authors appear, etc.

While TNY undeniably relies heavily on some of the same authors over and over, I can attest to the fact, after reading every story the magazine published last year, that it often publishes authors of whom I’ve either never heard, or have never read—and many of them are not exactly household names. That got me wondering whether I was just out of the loop, or if others had had the same experience.

So, here’s a quiz. Check out this list of all the stories the magazine published in 2008, and ask yourself how many authors on the list you’d heard of before they appeared in the magazine. I’m reasonably well-read, but of 40 authors, I’d never heard of eight: John Burnside, Rivka Galchen, Yiyun Li, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, J. M. G. Le Clezio, and Wells Tower. That’s not a bad percentage of new-to-me authors.

In the spirit of being ruthlessly honest, I will also add in authors I’ve heard of but have never gotten around to reading (though in some cases I’m embarrassed to admit it), such as Joshua Ferris, Tessa Hadley, Ha Jin, Hari Kunzru, Janet Frame, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Roberto Bolaño, Daniel Alarcon, and Edwige Danticat.

That’s another nine authors, which means I’d never read 17 out of 40 authors the magazine published last year. I may be an uncultured boor, but thanks to The New Yorker, I’m significantly more cultured than I was as of 2007.

Write in and tell us how you did on the quiz … and in case you’re curious about the magazine’s editorial policies, check out this recent Q&A with TNY fiction editor, Deborah Treisman.


People talk about “giving back.” In a way I think of my submissions to the New Yorker as giving back. It arrives every week, almost, and I am always pleased by what’s in it; not everything, exactly, but some things. The things I dislike make me feel superior, which isn’t a bad feeling re TNY. I’ve submitted cartoons which are funnier than theirs, stories that are better written and more interesting and illustrations that are at least as good as what I see in the magazine. Last year I was asked to do a cover; it almost appeared. (Francoise liked it, David did not.) It is like any long-term relationship, up and down but usually pretty pleasant. Stories of mine they haven’t accepted wind up elsewhere, but with email the submission process is convenient. Like everyone else in the fiction business, I am waiting for Updike and Roth to die. But I will miss their stories.

@ Eric Hanson - What a wonderfully amusing and honest comment. Can’t claim to know what it’s like to be a triple-threat artist submitting to the magazine, but otherwise, I’d say my experience of the magazine is similar. It’s so consistently strong and intriguing that, despite any particular gripes I may have from time to time (or period to period), I remain grateful for its persistent, weekly efflorescence.

That was highly interesting, Eric. Thanks so much for writing in and good luck with future submissions!

I reread what I wrote and think what a smug bastard that ErH sounds. Please assume I meant all the self-praise ironically. Sometimes TNY’s fiction readers must get headaches from rolling their eyes. Mostly I envy Updike and Roth their eyebrows. (Of course Roth never appears in the magazine except drawn by Bachtell or Hirschfeld.)

@ Eric: No worries. After all, this is a New Yorker fan blog. A certain amount of irony’s a given.

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