April 2008 / Granta, 101
I bought my first issue of Granta from a Waterstone’s in London’s West End towards the end of 1990. There was a small pile of the booksized magazine next to the till, and I was attracted by its bright and witty cover image – a photomontage of Mikhail Gorbachev holding an unopened bottle of champagne. The previous year had been one of extraordinary convulsion and upheaval. From Beijing to Berlin, from Bucharest to Bradford, from Tehran to Hillsborough, Sheffield: 1989 was the year of the restless crowd. It was obvious that the world as I’d known it throughout my childhood and adolescence – the world of the Cold War – was changing irreversibly. So much seemed to be breaking apart, but as yet I had no idea as to how the pieces would be put back together and the shape and pattern they would form. I had recently graduated. I was feeling adrift and confused. I was looking for something that would help me make sense of what had been going on and what was to come. In retrospect, I was looking for something to read. And here was Granta, before me on a bookshop counter, with its bold, exclamatory title, ‘New Europe!’
Rereading that issue recently, I feel about it now as I did then: that it had vitality and was engaging with the present moment in ways that so many other British publications were not. It had none of the parochialism, self-satisfaction and introversion one would have expected of a literary magazine. It looked outwards – to the whole world.
Nearly two decades later, I have the good fortune to be editor of Granta, and I want readers to feel about the magazine as I did when I first read it: that it is interested in everything, determined to witness the world.
Many assumptions have been made about Granta: we don’t publish writing about writing, we don’t publish poetry and each issue is themed. In fact, if a ring-fence was ever erected around the content of the magazine, the posts have been pulled up. Granta has always succeeded when at its boldest and most unpredictable, when it has sought to challenge and confront as well as entertain and inform. Our intention, then, is to publish new writing in whichever form or genre we choose; to be more internationalist in outlook and ambition, to publish more literature in translation, more photography, more investigations and long-form reportage.
This issue has no theme: we wanted simply to showcase as many good and varied pieces as we could, without constraint. But we shall be theming occasional issues, starting with Granta 102, out in the summer.
We have refined the design, and introduced a new front section, which includes a letters page that will provide a forum for readers’ views and opinions. We have reinvigorated our website, www.granta.com, with original content to be added daily. Our archive of articles will soon be available online, and subscribers will have free access to it. My expectation is that the site will become an important literary resource, and fun to visit and explore.
When I was asked to become editor last spring, I quickly realized that my first issue would be Granta’s 100th, and that my second would be its 101st. 101: an Orwellian number of doom! But my colleagues and I had no feelings of anxiety or dread as we worked on this latest issue; we felt only a sense of renewal and of possibility as Granta sails on into its second century.