Time Out São Paulo

Jonathan Freeman: interview

The editor of the UK literary journal Granta was in town for the launch of a new anthology of Brazilian writing

To what extent do you think Brazilian literature needed this anthology, Os Melhores Jovens Escritores Brasileiros (The Best Young Brazilian Writers)?
Well, the Brazilian Granta team made the case that we should do it because there’s a generation coming up that hasn’t yet really been acknowledged as such, with different influences and styles from the generation before them. I think young writers have something to say about language and about culture that’s unique to them. Collecting them in an anthology like this is important.

What effect do you think the publication of the anthology might have on the writers? I see that 18 of them are already writing novels. Do you think they would have done that anyway?
I have the impression they were all probably going to do it anyway. But what it can do is to bring attention around the world in a way that's almost impossible to do otherwise, even if you win a big prize in your country. I think six or seven of the writers in the Spanish anthology have been translated since being chosen. Six or seven of them have also been translated from the Portuguese since being chosen, and that's what I think it's all about – getting good writers out there.

The collection is being published in English in November, and in Spanish and Chinese next year. Why Chinese?
People in China are very keen to read new writers, and not that many have been translated. When the best of Brazilian list came out, I sent it round to all the Grantas, and the Chinese were instantly interested. It’s exciting. There’s a lot of trade between China and Brazil – China is Brazil’s number-two trading partner. But if all you get between countries is trade and commerce, and no culture, there’s no reason to exist. We’re not only consumers.

Internationalism seems to have become one of Granta’s defining characteristics.
I think towards the end of the 2000s, Granta became a very British, even an English magazine. But if you look at its early, swinging days when Bill Buford was editor, in the ’80s they were publishing Márquez and Kundera and André Brink and Doris Lessing, and writers from all around the world. They published Murakami stories quite early. It was like globalism before global culture was considered a thing. As editor, I wanted to get back to that mongrel energy of early Granta.

When did Granta start licensing into other languages?
The Spanish edition has been going for almost 10 years, the Brazilian one started in 2007, and the Italian one started in 2010. I thought, why stop there? What is there in Norwegian and Swedish other than crime fiction – and what about Chinese?

There's a great article on your website called ‘How To Read Brazil’, where some of the anthology writers talk about essential works of Brazilian fiction.
My hope is that it can bring the tradition of Brazilian literature, which is in some ways invisible to readers in English, into the discussion. Brazil has given the world a lot of great writers already, and I don’t want to have the conversation about these young writers outside of that context. Using the website is a way of getting them to talk about the writers who influenced them, and who we should be reading and of making sure that happens.

  • Os Melhores Jovens Escritores Brasileiros is published by Alfaguara, in Portuguese. R$34.90.

By Claire Rigby
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