This is our 150th issue. Last year we celebrated Granta’s fortieth anniversary (in its current incarnation) by bringing out a special edition of some of the best fiction and non-fiction we have published over the years. Here, we celebrate language itself, publishing a range of authors who stretch writing to its creative limits. We take our theme from Pwaangulongii Dauod’s remarkable eulogy to the late Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina. ‘There must be ways to organise the world with language,’ Dauod writes, meditating on the explosive creative energy of Wainaina’s vision for Africa. It’s an apt title, given that all the fiction in this issue is visionary and dramatic, addressing existential themes and taking the space to do it.
Our opening story, by Carmen Maria Machado, plays with ideas of staged violence, visibility and invisibility, origins and renewal, a ghostly mirroring of a fictional pre-war Parisian theatre of pain.
Sidik Fofana’s piece – a chapter from a forthcoming novel set in Harlem and written in American vernacular English – follows a schoolgirl sent South to stay with relatives over the summer. I’ve always been sceptical about writing in the vernacular, trapping characters in perceived idioms, but Fofana’s writing is so inventive, and so persuasive, that you immediately lose yourself in it.
Che Yeun’s story is about a South Korean teenager whose friendship with another girl culminates in violence. Can you survive outside the system? But then again, as a girl, can you survive within it?
Mazen Maarouf’s ‘The Story of Anya’ portrays a teenage boy falling in love with a girl in a nameless setting where some people have special powers and dreams are sold for money. Like Elena Ferrante, whose psychoanalytic insights and thoughts order the world of her characters, Maarouf drops clues into the text. The story is punctuated with symbols from faintly familiar yet surreal settings: bulletproof glass, cancer, nosebleeds, signed bank notes.
After youth, midlife. Tommi Parrish’s graphic story is about a ranting, middle-aged man at a bar who fails to connect with others. At the end of the story he is lying naked in his garden – I won’t describe what he is doing there, but it’s funny and a connection of sorts is finally made. This is a short chapter from a longer work about recovering addicts and other fractured characters – lumbering, gender-fluid people stumble through the pages; the dialogue is laconic, laced with gentle irony.
Perhaps the innocence of animals can be a salvation? Amy Leach’s fictional lecture coaches animals to count, to become more professional (and more human), less hopelessly poetical and inefficient in their doings: ‘Sometimes, when you see the emerald and ruby and sapphire sparkles on the snow, it seems like you are rich; sometimes it seems you can’t get along without someone, seems the winter will never end, seems the moon is abnormally big coming over the mountains. But measurement dispenses with all the seeming: the bank account is low, the moon is normal-sized, etc.’
Other than Dauod’s eulogy, we have three non-fiction pieces in this issue. Jack Kerouac travelled across America with Neal Cassady and others, an epic road trip described in his novel On the Road. Recently, Andrew O’Hagan told me about visiting Cassady’s widow, Carolyn, who was living in a mobile home outside Windsor. I commissioned him to write this piece. ‘They were just boys,’ she says of Jack and Neal and the others. ‘Just boys. But they had seen the sun together and that is everything.’
The second piece is also about old age. Photographer Michael Collins meticulously records the decline of his mother, who suffered from a series of strokes, gradually losing her ability to speak. His own terse language is perfectly in keeping with the subject matter; this is a sad story, and an important one.
Oliver Bullough, finally, describes what happened when a lawyer rewrote British Virgin Island company law, creating new channels for hidden money. Such is the power of language: words become law; laws change the world.
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