Summer Reading: 15 under 40

I love to read new and emerging fiction, and I get particularly excited when I read a great story by a peer. Below are the 15 writers under 40 who make me really giddy. I probably could have chosen 20 with some more thought, but 15 came to mind very easily. I included both fiction writers and poets.

Every year, The New Yorker publishes a Summer Fiction Issue. This year, the editors decided to compile a list of the best 20 writers under 40. I don’t necessarily agree with this list so I decided to make my own.

I love to read new and emerging fiction, and I get particularly excited when I read a great story by a peer. Below are the 15 writers under 40 who make me really giddy. I probably could have chosen 20 with some more thought, but 15 came to mind very easily. I included both fiction writers and poets, and my list is arranged alphabetically.

1. Nick Antosca, fiction writer (b. 1983): I first discovered Antosca when I read his story “White Apple“, published online at Spork Press. When I Googled him, I learned that he is only two years older than me but has already published two novels: “Midnight Picnic” (Word Riot Press, 2009) and “Fires” (Impetus Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Nerve, Hustler, The New York Sun, The Huffington Post, and other publications. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter!

2. Matt Bell, fiction writer (b. August 29, 1980): About a month ago, Matt Bell did a cool experiment; he wrote and edited a short story live on the Internet. He is the author of “How They Were Found”, a forthcoming collection of short stories published by Keyhole Press. In addition to publishing three chapbooks, Bell has stories in over 70 literary magazines, including American Short Fiction. He also writes book reviews and essays, which have been published by The Los Angeles Times and American Book Review, among others.

3. Kevin Brockmeier, fiction writer (b. December 6, 1972): I first read Brockmeier in grad school, when my professor Merrill Feitell encouraged us to check out “Things That Fall from the Sky”, a story included in a collection of the same name. I will forever remember this story as one of the most heartbreaking (in a good way) things I have ever read. What I like best about Brockmeier is his ability to cross genres; he has published two collections of stories, two children’s novels, and two fantasy novels.

4. Stacie Cassarino, poet (b. February 15, 1975): Cassarino’s poem “Northwest” is one of my favorite poems of all time. She writes: “The mind loves hope. /Dumb heart, come down from the walnut tree. /All the distance is ultimately a lie.” In 2008, New Issues Press published her first collection, “Zero at the Bone”. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, and Georgia Review, among others.

5. John Grochalski, fiction writer and poet (earned B.A. in 1996): Grochalski is identified as more of a poet than a fiction writer, but I really like his short story “Bill Smells“. He is the author of poetry collection “The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out”, published by Six Gallery Press in 2008. His poems have appeared in Avenue, The Lilliput Review, The New Yinzer, and The Blue Collar Review, among many others. His fiction has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pequin; one of his stories will be included in “Living Room Handjob”, an anthology.

6. Anya Groner, fiction writer and poet (b. January 26, 1982): I don’t mean to brag or anything, but Groner and I are Facebook friends. She just completed her MFA and lives in Mississippi. Groner’s story “Tenderly Now, Before I Expire” is one that I love dearly. I first read it in Flatmancrooked’s anthology “Not about Vampires”. Her writing has been published by Fiction Weekly, Memphis Magazine, and Bookslut.com.

7. Victor LaValle (b. February 3, 1972): LaValle visited the University of Maryland when I was a student there; he even came to speak and answer questions at one of our creative writing workshops! I tend to confuse him with Junot Diaz, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. He is the author of a short story collection, “Slapboxing with Jesus”, and two novels: “The Ecstatic” and “Big Machine”. “The Ecstatic”, my favorite, was a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

8. Sarah Manguso, fiction writer, poet, and essayist (b. 1974): Manguso’s most recent book, “The Two Kinds of Decay”, is a memoir of her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease. Her poetry collections include “Siste Viator” (2006) and “The Captain Lands in Paradise” (2002); the Village Voice named the latter a Favorite Book of the Year. She has won a Pushcart Prize and numerous prestigious fellowships. She currently teaches at Fairfield University.

9. Christopher Merkner, fiction writer and poet (earned B.A. in 1996): I saw Merkner read at AWP this year, and I really enjoyed his poems about marriage and children. You can read some of his poems online at Gulf Coast, a journal of literature and fine arts. I’m not familiar with his stories, but he recently had fiction, a story called “The Cook at Swedish Castle”, published in the Black Warrior Review. He teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

10. Mary Miller, fiction writer (age 32): I read about Mary Miller in HTML Giant, the “internet literature magazine blog of the future”. Then, I read her story “Go, Fish“, published in Barrelhouse in 2008. Miller writes:

The cherry falls from his cigarette. It lands on the carpet and she thinks, this is how fires start. She steps on it, pretends it’s a spider that refuses to die. When he looks up at her, she says, “Your cherry,” and he says, “Oh.” Then he asks her to sit on the bed with him and she says she’s comfortable where she is because it was an unexpected offer and her first inclination is always to decline.

Miller’s stories have also appeared in Oxford American, Mississippi Review, Black Clock, and Quick Fiction.You can purchase her chapbook, “Big World“, online.

11. Meghan O’Rourke, poet and critic (b. 1976): O’Rourke is best known for her role as contributing writer to Slate, but she is also a talented poet. She is the author of “Halflife“, a collection of poetry published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2008.

12. Marissa Perry, fiction writer: I can’t find very much about Perry, and I’m only assuming that she’s under 40. I know that she lives in New York City, that she also designs websites, and that she has an MFA from the University of Michigan, which awarded her a prize for her thesis in 2006. I loved her story “Trespassing”, which was published in Tin House’s 2008 Summer Issue. I think I e-mailed her once, to ask her some questions about process and craft; however, she was really busy at the time. You can read her blog, Abandon, and her story “The Invisibles” in Zoetrope.

13. Josh Peterson, fiction writer (b. December 7, 1978): I know Peterson’s work the same way I know Groner’s; I discovered one of his stories in “Not about Vampires” (Flatmancrooked). Peterson is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas and works part-time as a freelance writer. His story “The Nipples of Men” is forthcoming in The Tomfoolery Review, and another story, “An Infinite Amount of Monkeys,” is forthcoming in Defenestration.

14. Selah Saterstrom, fiction writer and poet (b. 1974): Saterstrom’s book “The Meat and Spirit Plan” is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’m pretty sure that every 20-something woman should read it. Like LaValle, Saterstrom spoke at one of my creative writing workshops in grad school. Her earlier work is experimental and can also be classified as poetry. Her work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Monkey Puzzle, 3rd Bed, and in the Seattle Research Institute’s anthology Experimental Theology. Please read her.

15. Emma Straub, fiction writer (age 30): Like Peterson and Groner, Straub is also a Flatmancrooked author. I bought her book, “Fly-Over State” at the Flatmancrooked table at AWP; I even had a chance to meet her! As she promises on her website, everyone who buys her book will receive a personalized love letter. Straub also co-edits Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction and the Read section of the Dossier Journal website. I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter!

Who’s your favorite writer under 40?

(Photo by el7bara)

7 thoughts on “Summer Reading: 15 under 40”

  1. wow. I was just informed of this list this morning by my pal, Don Wentworth. Laryssa, thank you very much for including me on this list
    because it really does mean a lot to have people reading your writing and enjoying it. It makes the 5 a.m battles with the word worth even more than it already does.

    John

  2. An excellent list! Grochalski, LaValle, and Brockmeier are 3 of my faves – looking forward to discovering these other writers as well.

  3. Wow! Thank you for the compliment. I’m honored and more than a little fan-boyed out to be on this list with all these other great writers. Brockmeier is a personal all-time favorite. Thanks, again. Wow.

  4. Terrific list. I recognize about half the names and will definitely check out the other half ASAP.
    One of my favorite writers is another under-40 guy, William Giraldi. He’s published fiction, essays and articles all over the place, and his first novel, BUSY MONSTERS, is being published by Norton this August. I just read an advance copy and it’s absolutely brilliant–literary, hilarious, full of pathos and forward momentum, and prose that leaps off the page. If there’s any justice in the world, it’ll make a huge splash and put Giraldi on everyone’s radar.

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