The 50 Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 35 to 26
Counting Down the Year That Was, One Story at a Time
We’re counting down the 50 biggest literary stories of the year. To see 50 through 36, head over here.
35. Nell Zink, Powerful Wizard, Speaks
Though “powerful American wizard” Nell Zink first burst onto the scene in 2014 with her surprise hit The Wallcreeper, this year we were blessed with a plethora of Zink quotables, from Kathryn Schultz’s New Yorker profile to interviews with VICE, The Guardian, and The Paris Review to her infamously deleted n+1 review of Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, in which she compares the novel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
34. Joyce Carol Oates Takes it Too Far on Twitter
Joyce Carol Oates’s bizarre twitter is not new, though it thrust her once again into the spotlight this year when she (at least claimed to have) trolled us all by wondering about dinosaur conservation laws. Less amusingly, she publicly wondered there was anything “celebratory & joyous” about ISIS. As the kids say: Never tweet.
33. Lots of Dead People Were Published, Again
2015 was like a literary Nicolas Cage film, bringing us a windfall of previously undiscovered or unpublished pieces by renowned, deceased authors, including: 150-year-old stories written by Mark Twain at age 29, one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final stories, a lost Dylan Thomas poem, a previously unpublished story written by Truman Capote as a high schooler, George Orwell’s collected poetry (which is of “dubious quality”), a “cut and paste” short story by Edith Wharton, an impassioned political poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a story and poem by Charlotte Brontë concealed within one of her mother’s books, and a one-act comedy by William Faulkner. And no, Harper Lee is not dead yet.
32. Khadija Ismayilova Remains in Jail
Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova was arrested on December 5, 2014, after a prolonged government campaign to impugn her good name. The charges? The dismally spurious “inciting a colleague to commit suicide.” Ismayilova’s real crime, at least in the eyes of those in power, would be her tenacious investigation and reporting of widespread government corruption. Despite international pressure (Ismayilova won the 2015 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith award ) Ismayilova remains in prison, now serving a seven-year term for tax evasion—a stark reminder of how dangerous it still is to be a writer who speaks truth to power.
31. Gordon Lish’s Prodigal Son Returns
Atticus Lish publishes the widely acclaimed Preparation for the Next Life with Tyrant Books, without seeking help from his father (Gordon Lish) to write or sell the book—unusual, to say the least, in the publishing world. As Lish pere put it, “I think I’m a teacher. Not a writer. My son Atticus is a writer.”
32.The Case Against Blind Submissions
This year saw race and privilege undergo long-overdue dissections, in both the wider world and the literary world (more on that, throughout the rest of this countdown). The conversation is far, far from over but one version of it took place around the subject of blind literary submissions. In compelling, thoughtful open letters, the journals Apogee and The James Franco Review made the case against blind submission policies because, as the Apogee editors wrote: “There exists a myth, prominent in the literary world, of an objective standard for literary excellence; one whose criteria has nothing to do with a writer’s or reader’s identity or background.”
31. Literary Journals Making Money Off Slush Piles
Slightly more specific to the literary world, but still in the realm of gatekeeping, is the niche controversy around submission fees to literary journals. As many of these tempests begin, so too did this one on Twitter, as a writer named Nick Mamatas expressed dismay* at brand new journal The Offing’s fees. After the initially combative Twitter tone abated, there followed a constructive, if inconclusive, dialogue that spread through the broader literary community, culminating in a reported story in The Atlantic, and a piece by Mike McGinnis at Medium.
*No word if Mamatas has been in touch with Narrative Magazine, which employs a maximalist approach to both submission fees and the pricing of how-to books for writers ($23 for the former, $225 for the latter).
Juan Felipe Herrera was chosen as the 21st poet laureate of the United States. A son of Mexican migrant farmworkers, he is the first Latino poet laureate. In an interview with NPR, he explains that, “poetry is a call to action and it also is action.”
27. Publishing Heavyweights Bill Clegg and Jonathan Galassi Release Novels
Big-time agent Bill Clegg, already celebrated for his two memoirs, published his first novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, to largely positive reviews (except, you know, that one). Even higher up the publishing food chain, FSG president and publisher Jonathan Galassi published his first novel, Muse, a sharp yet affectionate publishing roman a clef that did not include a smart and stylish literary website called Literary Hut.
In response to AWP’s lack of inclusivity, some members started a petition calling for “increased diversity, accessibility, and transparency.” In response, AWP released a statement and their panelist demographics, which was followed by a very misguided post entitled “AWP Is Us” published in the Huffington Post. In it, an AWP committee member mocked the petition’s demands using offensive, outdated language and stereotypes. The backlash was both immense and immediate, resulting in the post’s deletion and an apology; the screenshot, however, lives on.