20 Under 40: New Fiction by Younger Authors

by Ruby on June 3, 2010

Yesterday, the New Yorker published a list of 20 fiction author under 40 to watch in the coming years. The list hasn’t been published since 1999, but back then they picked some authors who did, in fact, turn out to be great – Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Díaz, and Jeffrey Eugenides, among others. The new list features a wide range of authors writing from many different backgrounds, styles, and even countries, so if you’re looking for a great new book, this is a really, really good place to start. I’ve added some extra details about the authors and their books, so you can see what interests you most. Happy reading!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Most Recent
Fiction: The Thing Around Your Neck – short stories
What’s It About?: Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States.
Other Titles: Half of a Yellow Sun, Purple Hibiscus
About the Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The O. Henry Prize Stories, 2003; The New Yorker; Granta; the Financial Times; and Zoetrope. Her most recent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Broadband Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; it was a New York Times Notable Book and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. A recipient of a 2008 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.

Chris Adrian
Age: 39
Most Recent Fiction: A Better Angel – short stories
What’s It About?: The stories in A Better Angel, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, and McSweeney’s, demonstrate more of Chris Aiden’s endless inventiveness and wit, and they confirm his growing reputation as an unusual literary voice of darkly magical comic tales.
Other Titles: Gob’s Grief, The Children’s Hospital
About the Author: Chris Adrian’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Story, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and in Best American Short Stories.

Daniel Alarcón
Age: 33
Most Recent Fiction: Lost City Radio – novel
What’s It About?: Alarcón’s highly anticipated novel tells the story of three people searching for answers in a country ravaged by war.
Other Titles: War by Candlelight, The Secret Miracle
About the Author: Daniel Alarcon’s debut story collection, War by Candlelight, was a finalist for the 2006 PEN/Hemingway Award. He has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, and has been named by Granta magazine one of the Best American Novelists under thirty-five. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, an award-winning monthly magazine published in his native Lima, Peru. He lives in Oakland, California.

David Bezmozgis
Age: 37
Most Recent
Fiction: Natasha – short stories
What’s It About?: Told through the eyes of Mark, a Russian Jew who has fled the Riga of Brezhnev for Toronto, the city of his dreams, the stories in Natasha possess a serious wit and uniquely Jewish perspective.
About the Author: David Bezmozgis was born in Riga, Latvia, in 1973. In 1980 he immigrated with his parents to Toronto, where he lives today. This is his first book.

Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Age: 38
Most Recent Fiction: Ms. Hempel Chronicles – novel
What’s It About?: From this most innovative of young writers comes another journey down the rabbit hole to the wonderland of middle school, memory, daydreaming, and the extraordinary business of growing up.
Other Titles: Madeleine is Sleeping
About the Author: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum’s fiction has appeared in the Georgia Review and Alaska Quarterly Review. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, New York. Madeleine Is Sleeping is her first novel.

Joshua Ferris
Age: 35
Most Recent Fiction: The Unnamed – novel
What’s It About?: The Unnamed is a dazzling novel about a marriage and a family and the unseen forces of nature and desire that seem to threaten them both. It is the heartbreaking story of a life taken for granted, and what happens when that life is abruptly and irrevocably taken away.
Other Titles: Then We Came to the End
About the Author: Joshua Ferris’s first novel, Then We Came to the End, won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, and was a National Book Award finalist. It has been translated into 24 languages. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Best New American Voices, New Stories from the South, Prairie Schooner, and The Iowa Review. He lives in New York.

Jonathan Safran Foer
Age: 33
Most Recent Fiction: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – novel
What’s It About?: Nine-year-old Oskar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York: find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11.
Other Titles: Everything is Illuminated, Eating Animals
About the Author: Jonathan Safran Foer’s work has appeared in the Paris Review, the New York Times, and The New Yorker. He is the author of two novels and Eating Animals, a work of nonfiction.

Nell Freudenberger
Age: 35
Most Recent Fiction: The Dissident – novel
What’s It About?: Yuan Zhao, a celebrated Chinese performance artist and political dissident, has accepted a one-year artist’s residency in Los Angeles. The trouble starts when he and his American hosts begin to view one another with clearer eyes.
Other Titles: Lucky Girls
About the Author: Nell Freudenberger’s collection of stories, Lucky Girls, was a New York Times Notable Book and won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2005 Freudenberger was the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award. She lives in New York City.

Rivka Galchen
Age: 34
Most Recent Fiction: Atmospheric Disturbances – novel
What’s It About?: When Dr. Leo Liebenstein’s wife disappears, she leaves behind a single confounding clue: a woman who looks, talks, and behaves exactly like her. But Leo is not fooled; certain that the real Rema is alive and in hiding, he embarks on a quixotic journey to reclaim her.
About the Author: Rivka Galchen received her MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, having spent a year in South America working on public health issues. Galchen recently completed her MFA at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham Fellow. Her essay on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics was published in The Believer, and she is the recipient of a 2006 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Galchen lives in New York City. This is her first novel.

Nicole Krauss
Age: 35
Most Recent
Fiction: The History of Love – novel
What’s It About?: A long-lost book reappears, mysteriously connecting an old man searching for his son and a girl seeking a cure for her widowed mother’s loneliness.
Other Titles: Man Walks Into a Room
About the Author: Nicole Krauss was born in New York in 1974 and lives in Brooklyn. She has published in Esquire, The Paris Review, and Best American Short Stories. Called “one of the most impressive debuts of 2002” by Esquire, Man Walks Into a Room was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.

Yiyun Li
Age: 37
Most Recent Fiction: The Vagrants – novel
What’s It About?: In luminous prose, award-winning author Yiyun Li weaves together the lives of unforgettable characters who are forced to make moral choices, and choices for survival, in China in the late 1970s.
Other Titles: A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
About the Author: Yiyun Li is a winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, and the Guardian First Book Award. She grew up in Beijing and attended Peking University. She came to the United States in 1996 to study medicine and started writing two years later. After receiving a master’s degree in immunology from the University of Iowa, she attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received an MFA. The author of The Vagrants and A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Li was selected for a Whiting Writers’ Award and was named by Granta as one of best young American novelists under thirty-five. Li teaches at the University of California, Davis, and lives in Oakland, California, with her husband and their two sons.

Dinaw Mengestu
Age: 31
Most Recent Fiction: The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears – novel
What’s It About?: Years ago in Ethiopia, Sepha could never have imagined his current isolated life: he runs a failing grocery store in Washington, D. C. Hope comes in the form of a friendship with new neighbors Judith and Naomi, but when a series of racial incidents disturbs the community, Sepha may lose everything all over again.
Other Titles: How to Read the Air (forthcoming)
About the Author: Dinaw Mengestu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1978. In 1980, he and his family came to the United States. A graduate of Georgetown University and Columbia University’s MFA program in fiction, he lives in New York City.

Philipp Meyer
Age: 36
Most Recent Fiction: American Rust – novel
What’s It About?: From local bars to train yards to prison, American Rust is the story of two young men, bound to their town by family, responsibility, inertia, and the beauty around them, who dream of a future beyond the factories and abandoned homes.
About the Author: Philipp Meyer grew up in Baltimore, dropped out of high school, and got his GED when he was sixteen. After spending several years volunteering at a trauma center in downtown Baltimore, he attended Cornell University, where he studied English. Since graduating, Meyer has worked as a derivatives trader at UBS, a construction worker, and an EMT, among other jobs. His writing has been published in McSweeney’s, The Iowa Review, Salon.com, and New Stories from the South. From 2005 to 2008 Meyer was a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. He splits his time between Texas and upstate New York.

C. E. Morgan
Age: 33
Most Recent Fiction: All the Living – novel
What’s It About?: Aloma struggles to settle herself on a lonely tobacco farm with her lover, and to find beauty and stimulation where she can. As she decides whether to stay with Orren, she will choose either to fight her way to independence or accept the rigors of commitment.
About the Author: C.E. Morgan studied English and voice at Berea College and holds a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. She was named one of the 5 Best Writers Under 35 by the National Book Foundation. She lives in Kentucky. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

Téa Obreht
Age: 24
Most Recent Fiction: The Tiger’s Wife (forthcoming)
About the Author: Téa Obreht’s first novel, The Tiger’s Wife, will be published by The Dial Press in 2011. Her fiction debut – an excerpt of The Tiger’s Wife in The New Yorker – was followed by a short story in the summer 2009 fiction issue of The Atlantic. Téa Obreht was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia, and spent her childhood in Cyprus and Egypt before eventually immigrating to the United States in 1997. After graduating from the University of Southern California, Téa received her M.F.A. in Fiction from the Creative Writing Program at Cornell University in 2009.

Z Z Packer
Age: 37
Most Recent Fiction: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere – short stories
What’s It About?: Packer surprises and delights with unexpected turns and indelible images as she takes us into the lives of characters on the periphery, unsure of where they belong.
About the Author: A New Yorker debut writer, ZZ Packer has had short stories published in the Best American Short Stories, 2000 (edited by E. L. Doctorow), Harper’s, Story magazine, and in the anthology 25 and Under: Fiction, as well as a story read on NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” A graduate of Yale and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. She has held Wallace Stegner and Truman Capote fellowships from Stanford University, where she is currently a Jones Lecturer.

Karen Russell
Age: 28
Most Recent Fiction: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves – short stories
What’s It About?: In these ten glittering stories, Karen Russell takes us to the ghostly and magical swamps of the Florida Everglades where wolf-like girls are reformed by nuns, a family makes their living wrestling alligators in a theme park, and little girls sail away on crab shells.
About the Author: Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in both The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and New York magazine’s list of twenty-five people to watch under the age of twenty-six. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program and is the 2005 recipient of the Transatlantic Review/Henfield Foundation Award; her fiction has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Granta, Zoetrope, Oxford American, and The New Yorker. Twenty-five years old, she lives in New York City.

Salvatore Scibona
Age: 35
Most Recent Fiction: The End – novel
What’s It About?: Cast against the racial, spiritual, and moral tension that has given rise to modern America, this first novel exhumes the secrets lurking in the darkened crevices of the soul of our country.
About the Author: Salvatore Scibona’s fiction has been published in The Threepenny Review and the Pushcart Prize anthology. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is the writing coordinator at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Gary Shteyngart
Age: 37
Most Recent Fiction: Absurdistan – novel
What’s It About?: When a civil war breaks out between two competing ethnic groups and a local warlord installs hapless Misha Vainberg as minister of multicultural affairs, our hero soon finds himself covered in oil, fighting for his life, falling in love, and trying to figure out if a normal life is still possible in the twenty-first century.
Other Titles: The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Super Sad True Love Story (forthcoming)
About the Author: Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972 and came to the United States seven years later. His debut novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book, a best book of the year by The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly, and one of the best debuts of the year by The Guardian. His fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, GQ, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. He lives in New York.

Wells Tower
Most Recent Fiction: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – short stories
What’s It About?: Wells Tower’s version of America is touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit: failed inventors, boozy dreamers, hapless fathers, and wayward sons.
About the Author: Wells Tower’s short stories and journalism have appeared in The New YorkerHarper’s Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. He divides his time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.