The British literary journal Granta celebrates its 40th anniversary with a spring issue packed with literary treasures.
Launched by American expatriate to Britain Bill Buford in 1979, the magazine became known for discovering new writers and publishing special issues. Buford revived the title from a humor magazine for Oxford students called The Granta that began in the Victorian era.
Shaking off that musty past, Buford transformed Granta into a showcase of dazzling new writing. The 40th anniversary issue contains many of the magazine's greatest hits, including Buford's farewell editorial in 1995 when he left for a successful writing career interpreting British culture for American readers.
The thick issue is laden with non-fiction and fiction jewels from an all-star lineup of writers. Among the surprises is novelist Philip Roth's warm memoir about his father, an insurance salesman, and growing up in Jewish Newark.
Standouts include vintage short stories by Lorrie Moore, Joy Williams, Lydia Davis, Mary Gaitskill, Don DeLillo and Raymond Chandler, reporting from Ryazard Kapuicinski, Diana Athill's memoir about editing V.S. Naipaul and Edmund White's recollections about coming out as gay when a teenager.
John Gregory Dunne's harrowing essay "Glitches" tells about how he received the diagnosis of a life-threatening heart condition that eventually led to his death while at dinner with his wife, Joan Didion, in their Manhattan apartment.
In her best-selling "The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion gives a heart-rending account of her grief at Dunne's death, followed by that of their daughter. Didion's one of the few noted authors not represented in the Granta collection.
While Granta discovered unknown writers, it also solicited well-established authors. The special issue offers facsimiles of editorial correspondence from Graham Greene and Martha Gellhorn. Also reprinted is Kingsley Amis' amusing note to Buford advising the editor that he likely couldn't afford to publish a piece by Amis.
Granta's birthday issue is an outstanding anthology of writing from the late 20th century until now. While I generally toss literary mags in the recycling bin when finished, I'll save this Granta issue for re-reading.