It was one of the first blustery winter nights outside the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca when six of the fiction writers who made the New Yorker’s much-discussed 20 Under 40 list, read short passages from their work in the main low-lit lounge, then took questions from a crowd. Several of the young writers who the New Yorker claimed “capture the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction” were in attendance: Rivka Galchen, Karen Russell, Wells Tower, Gary Shteyngart, David Bezmozgis and Nell Freudenberger. They sat on stage — microphones in hands — with Deborah Treisman, the New Yorker’s fiction editor and lead list-maker, MC-ing in a corner. Admiration — and seething jealousy — radiated from the beer-sipping audience.
The first question from the audience asked for tips on how they could write well enough to get on a list such as the New Yorker list. The next question was whether there were negative aspects to being on that list. Many of the subsequent questions were variations on these queries.
Did they notice the debate about the list online? “I stopped looking at any of that,” said Towers, who has chided the Internet for its shallowness and distraction in previous interviews. “Was there a lot of player hating?” he asked looking around at his fellow list-makers. They blinked in silence.
“There was outspoken hatred for the New Yorker,” Treisman said. How could the New Yorker be so arrogant to make a list such as this?, she explained.
Tower explained that digging into those kinds of discussions can be a “destructive thing.” It’s best to do what they do: write. And ignore the hating.
In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tower explained his decision to move from Brooklyn to a house without an internet connection in North Carolina: “The Internet is destructive to my attention span,” he said, “and it’s the opposite and enemy of the literary head-space.”
At the 92nd Street Y Tribeca, the writers were celebrating the release of their writing collected in a book, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in November. When an audience member asked for writing tips, Russell, 29, suggested “writing every day.”
When another audience member asked whether rejection had ever influenced their work, Russell explained that everyone who had made the 20 Under 40 list had been rejected by a publisher in the past. But that shouldn’t change your work, and if you’re doing what you love, it likely shouldn’t change what you do.
Writers need to understand that it’s a “peculiar thing that you’re doing and other people don’t get rejected as often.”