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Granta has released its prestigious once-in-a-decade Best of Young American Novelists list and it includes Ethiopia’s Dinaw Mengestu, Nigeria’s Chinelo Okparanta, and Ghana’s Yaa Gyasi.

The 21-writer list, regarded as one of the most accurate and influential predictors of literary impact, is in its third publication.

First released in 1997, it was followed by another in 2007, and as is usual with them, Granta have dedicated their entire Issue 139 to the 21 novelists of the 2017 class.

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 17: Dinaw Mengestu poses for a portrait on Monday, September 17, 2012 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan/Getty Images for Home Front Communications)

Dinaw Mengestu’s inclusion comes ten years after his celebrated debut. One of only two African writers to have won a MacArthur “Genius” Grant—in 2012, the other being Adichie in 2008—the Ethiopian is the author of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (2007) which won the 2007 Guardian Best First Book Award and a 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; How To Read the Air (2010) which won the 2011 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence; and All Our Names (2014) which was nominated for the Prix Femina etranger.

A Professor of Creative Writing at Georgetown University, this is Mengestu’s fourth time of appearing in a major list predicting impact. In 2007, he made the US National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” list. In 2010, he made The New Yorker’s “20 under 40” list alongside Adichie. In 2014, he made the Africa 39 list.

Chinelo Okparanta is making her second appearance on a Granta list. In 2012, she was included in the magazine’s “Six New Voices” list. Her short story, “America,” made the 2013 Caine Prize shortlist, and her “Fairness” won an O.Henry Award. Her 2013 short story collection Happiness, Like Water won the 2014 LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Literature in 2015. Her first novel Under the Udala Trees (2015) won the 2016 LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction and is currently on the shortlist of the 2017 Dublin International Literary Award.

 

Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing, rumoured to have earned her Africa’s second million-dollar advance after Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, was published last year to ovation. It was a critics’ favourite and, early this year, cruised to a remarkable win of the US National Book Critics’ Circle’s John Leonard Prize. Its epic range—it spans three centuries—and structure has been much discussed, and we ran a feature on it just this week.

 

Mengestu, Chinelo and Gyasi join Uzodinma Iweala who was named in the 2007 class of this list.

Granta‘s sister list, the Best of Young British Novelists, had included the trio of Taiye Selasi, Helen Oyeyemi and Nadifa Mohammed in 2013, Ben Okri in 1993, and Buchi Emecheta in 1983.

Here are the eighteen other novelists of the Best of Young American Novelists 2017 class.

  • Jesse Ball.
  • Halle Butler.
  • Emma Cline.
  • Joshua Cohen.
  • Mark Doten.
  • Jen George.
  • Rachel B. Glaser.
  • Lauren Groff.
  • Garth Risk Hallberg.
  • Greg Jackson.
  • Sana Krasikov.
  • Catherine Lacey.
  • Ben Lerner.
  • Karan Mahajan.
  • Anthony Marta.
  • Ottessa Moshfegh.
  • Claire Vaye Watkins.
  • Esme Weijun Wang.

Filling the issue are stories from the 21 authors: Dinaw Mengestu contributes “This Is Our Descent,” Chinelo Okparanta has “All the Caged Things,” and Yaa Gyasi has “Leaving Gotham City.”

Their inclusion points to something we mentioned earlier this year: the acceptance, in this age when diversity is needed more than ever, of the potential of writing by Africans to shape the dynamics of American literature. This reflected, also, in the emergence of three Africans—all of whom are Nigerian—among the winners of the 2017 PEN America awards:  Helen Oyeyemi took home the PEN Open Book Award, and Angela Ajayi and Grace Oluseyi were among the twelve winners of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize for Emerging Writers.

Big congratulations to Mengestu, Chinelo and Gyasi!

Find our more in Granta.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young was born in Aba, Nigeria, and attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. A finalist for the 2016 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, his short stories include: “A Tenderer Blessing,” which appears in Transition Magazine and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015; “Mulumba,” which appears in The Threepenny Review; and “You Sing of a Longing,” which was shortlisted for the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award and appears in Pride and Prejudice, an anthology by The Jacana Literary Foundation and The Other Foundation. His essays appear in Interdisciplinary Academic Essays and in Brittle Paper where he is Deputy Editor. His interviews appear in Africa in Dialogue, Bakwa Magazine, SPRINNG, and Dwartonline. He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (October 2016), focuses on Nigerian cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. A postgraduate student of African Studies, he currently teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu, Nigeria. When bored, he blogs pop culture at naijakulture.blogspot.com or just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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