After more than a year of preparation, the renowned London-based literary magazine Granta has finally launched in China. Unlike its English edition, with four regular issues each year, the Chinese edition will have two or three themed issues each year.
The first issue, titled “Britain,” features works from 18 English writers, including David Mitchell, A.S. Byatt and Kazuo Ishiguro, all of whom Chinese readers are familiar with. There are short stories, selections from novels, travelogues, plays, poetry and art, reflecting many different facets of English history and culture.
The China launch gives Granta, which was started in 1889, a presence in four major world languages. It is also published in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Bulgarian, Swedish and Norwegian. IBTimes China talked to Granta editor John Freeman about the launch, Chinese literature and the state of reading in the digital age.
IBTimes China: Let’s talk about the Chinese-language edition. Why did you decide to publish it?
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John Freeman: Many readers cannot read great literature because of language barriers, and another big issue is that many works of literature have never been translated at all. We are publishing Granta in Chinese to counter this problem.
We’ll translate the best literary works in the world to Chinese, and we will also translate Chinese works into English, Spanish and other languages, bringing Chinese literature to the world.
IBTimes China: What are you most excited about for the Chinese edition of Granta?
John Freeman: In China, many readers of literary fiction want to read original “new writing.” When I found out there’s an opportunity to allow these bookworms to directly interact with Granta, I was very excited. When we put the plan in motion, the most exciting thing was discovering outstanding writing from Chinese writers I’d never heard of.
I also hope to develop a mobile app for Granta’s Chinese edition so that readers who love to read will be able to whenever they want to. We are working hard to realize this goal.
IBTimes China: Granta has always positioned itself as the magazine of “new writing.” How does the magazine define that?
John Freeman: “New writing” refers to fresh, unpublished writing that is dying to present itself to readers.
IBTimes China: Why does Granta always have a different theme for each issue? Does this make it hard to select authors?
John Freeman: It’s not difficult at all. Even if we didn’t set out to select works based on a specific theme, every article in an issue somehow arrives at a mutual agreement [with] the others. So a theme naturally arises. Every issue has a theme that is almost like a handle, waiting for us to reach out for it. We don’t have to search hard for it at all.
IBTimes China: Granta is known for its Best Young Writers list, which comes out every 10 years and is regarded as a bellwether in the literary world as so many on it have gone on to great critical and commercial success. Will the Chinese Granta keep this tradition?
John Freeman: I hope so. Usually, the best young writers list in our foreign-language editions is published in the 10th local issue, so it might take a few years. But I can just imagine how exciting it will be to finally unveil that list for China.
IBTimes China: In China, anything bearing an English tag, from music to fashion to high tea, is synonymous with elegance and style. Is Granta going to be the style icon in the literary world?
John Freeman: That’s hilarious. In fact, in England that type of old-English aesthetic is balled up in the corner, old and wrinkled, not fashionable at all.
Granta, as an iconic magazine in the literary world, has led literary fashion for an unbelievably long time. I think Granta’s stories comprise two styles: On the one hand, we are against the opulent, gilded style of writing. We like our writing to have a bit of wildness and an author’s unvarnished individuality. On the other, we love skillful command of words and beautiful, elegant prose. Granta has both of these styles.
IBTimes China: In England, is the most well-known Chinese author Mo Yan? How much do you know about Chinese literature?
John Freeman: In my opinion, China’s literature, especially poetry, is as rich as its history. I love Chinese authors of many styles, for example A Yi, whose short story has appeared in Granta’s English edition. Of course, Mo Yan, whose stories read as if they are told by a wise, old prophet. There’s also Yu Hua, Ma Jian and many others. One of the goals of Granta China is to allow many more to display their literary skills.
IBTimes China: As the world’s economy declines, has Granta been affected? Are literary magazines' days numbered?
John Freeman: We can’t deny that in the past 10 years our circulation has dropped. But this is inevitable for any magazine in such economic conditions. But it’s not bad enough to be life-or-death for us. We have more online readers now. Our websites get more than 1 million readers each year. What's difficult is making money with this type of publication. Granta’s goal was never to make money. Even magazines like The New Yorker with millions of subscribers are struggling to survive. You do it because you like it. You can think of this as an art or passion. It’s important that our publisher think we are valuable, so that we can keep moving forward.
IBTimes China: Has the Kindle changed people’s reading habits? In transitioning from paper to electronic books, has the meaning and experience of reading for people changed?
John Freeman: Yes, it’s revolutionary. On the one hand, e-readers are easy to carry around, and they lower the cost of books. That’s great.
I do worry that readers reading online or on electronic devices are losing an essential part of reading: spontaneity. In the digital age, reading a new book often means going to a website or searching for a specific book. Before, when you got a new book, sometimes it was through a friend’s recommendation or because a bookstore displayed it in a prominent area and you fell in love with it at first sight.
IBTImes China: David Mitchell, who was once on a best young writers list, has become famous for a movie adapted from his book, "Cloud Atlas." Could this mean that one of his or her books being made into a movie is a sign that a writer has made it?
John Freeman: "Cloud Atlas" was made into a stylish movie with a heartbreaking story. Even though it’s different from the book in many ways, it still retains the book’s essence. Isn’t it a great piece of art in itself?