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Top Young Fiction Writers

The New Yorker names its top writers under 40. Three talk to us.

From left: Joshua Ferris, Yiyun Li, Nell Freudenberger (Credits: author Websites; Freudenberg picture by Marion Ettinger)

How do you pick the very best young fiction writers in North America? Not easy. 

The New Yorker magazine did it last week, naming twenty under age 40 as the best of the best, for a mastery of language and storytelling and – beyond that – “a palpable sense of ambition.” 

We have three of the twenty with us today. Joshua Ferris. Yiyun Li. Nell Freudenberger. And we’ve got questions. 

Are they looking to step into the shoes of big writers just gone? Mailer? Updike? J.D. Salinger? Or are they looking to make new shoes?  Like what? 

This Hour, On Point: top writers of literary fiction under 40.


Joshua Ferris, 35, is an American writer and author of “Then We Came To the End” and “The Unnamed.” Read an excerpt from “The Unnamed.”

Yiyun Li, 37, is a Chinese-American writer and assistant professor of English at the University of California – Davis. She’s author of “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” and “The Vagrants.” Read an excerpt from “The Vagrants.”

Nell Freudenberger, 35, is an American writer and author of “Lucky Girls” and “The Dissident.” Read an excerpt from “The Dissident” (go to the Table of Contents and scroll to Chapters).


Check out the full New Yorker list of the top 20 fiction writers under 40. And read the New York Times’ Sam Tanenhaus’ critique of the premise of the New Yorker list.

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  • http://www.socialistjazz.blogspot.com Todd Mason

    The sooner we rid ourselves of such notions that there are “literary fiction” writers and presumably “non-literary fiction” writers, as opposed to fiction writers, the better off we’ll be. Art may be sold in slots at the B&N before they all go bankrupt, but that doesn’t mean we need to clutch onto marketing categories as having any useful meaning, as opposed to an intellectually bankrupt one, in dealing with literary art. Or were and are Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Carol Emshwiller, Richard McKenna, Michael Shaara, Jim Thompson, Philip Dick, Peter Beagle, Joanna Russ, Thomas Disch, William Kotzwinkle and a host of others simply Not ambitious, literate artisans at least the equal of the likes of John Irving or TC Boyle, because of which editors bought their work at which houses? Nonsense.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

    Amen to that, Todd.

  • Michael

    could bur do a top 40 plus of fiction writers, i love reading R.A. salvatore and would be great do have him on.


  • chris cronin

    As a new parent, it seems short story fiction is just about a perfect fit for the time I have available. I try to make a point to get a few in before I fall asleep

  • BHA

    I believe in real books. Nothing wrong with electronic books, but as long as people have eyes, they can read books.

    Can you still find a card reader? a 96 column IBM card reader? How about an 8″ or 5 1/4″ floppy drive reader? A 31/2″ – probably.

    How about an 8 track player? A VHS player – yes but getting harder.

    The point is: as technology changes all the data stored either has to be migrated or is lost. A book is a book, forever.

  • http://lizybee.wordpress.com Sweetman

    Thank you for this topic, very interesting and insightful. This is an interesting following to yesterday’s program regarding the re-wiring of our brains on the internet. I see strong correlations between the “instant gratification” of the internet and the loss of training one’s brain to focus and draw insight in “good” writing. I do despair for the future of literature. Keep up the great work in the face of adversity is my strong urging to these authors.

  • Bob

    As much as I love books and the printed word, I have found that the hybrid of the paper book and access to the internet has made reading even more enjoyable. I can research historical events, scientific ideas, mythology, word meanings… and in the end the book has much more meaning and teaches as well as entertains. That being said, the idea of reading a book on the iPad, and having access to the Internet at the same time intrigues me very much. Don’t get me wrong, I love paper book, and will always have them around, but I’m curious to see what it will be like to read a novel in electronic form while also being able to answer questions that come up during the read.

  • Brett

    One of my favorite writers that is sort of new on the scene is Rivka Galchen. She has published only one novel so far, “Atmospheric Disturbances,” in which she takes the idea of the doppelganger, the simulacrum, the impostor, the ersatz stand-in and fuses that with a meteorological concept that we can’t truly know what the weather will be tomorrow because we don’t really know enough to fully define what the weather is at this moment…Anyway, she has written essays, articles and bits of fiction for The New Yorker, Harper’s and various publications. I await her next novel, with bated breath.

    I feel modern fiction is alive and well, and I am heartened by this “new generation” of writers. There’s no need to pass any torches; each writer can carry his or her own torch. The need to determine which writers will have lasting importance can be for those who will in future make a living as critics.

    I remember when Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News” came out or when Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” hit the scene; I was as excited as a schoolboy. In listening to the writers on the program today, I kept thinking about the kinship I feel with writers and that I am not worried about the well running dry. And, as Nell Freudenberger mentioned about her correspondence with a woman through e-mails, modern communication tools can only help to keep writing and the writer flourishing.

    I prefer the old-fashioned paper book. There’s something about its physicality, of holding it in one’s hands, of turning the pages in one’s fingers then sliding one’s hand down the page as if to smooth the text for absorption; it’s a caress. However, the age of electronic writing, electronic publishing and electronic reading is here, and we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I do hope the old-fashioned kind never fully leaves us, though…

    Thanks to all for the program today.

  • cory

    Bravo, BHA!!!

  • Ronald Gorinky

    It would be nice to see a list these authors favorite authors as mentioned in the interview tonight

  • jeannie

    It would be nice to do a show of folks in their 40′s AND OLDER who have become writers later in life who are successful – I betcha there’s a lot of them. Why are middle age folks the forgotten people? So many people losing jobs, forced to change everything. Let’s have a show on success after 45, eh?

  • Brett

    Who is salah, and why does he/she re-post other people’s comments?

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