By Ella Davies
Granta Magazine and Granta Books share the ambition of discovering and publishing up-and-coming literary fiction. This includes an international selection of memoirs, reportage and poetry. In 1889, Granta Magazine was founded by Cambridge University students. They initially named it The Granta, after the medieval name for the river that runs through Cambridge. It was originally a periodical of student politics, badinage and literary enterprise. They published the work of writers such as A. A. Milne, Michael Frayn, Stevie Smith, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. In 1979, Bill Buford and Pete de Bolla re-launched the quarterly. Every themed issue captures the attention of global writers and focuses on one aspect of modern life.
Ten years later, Granta Books followed the rebirth of the magazine. It set out to publish six books a year under the distribution and promotion of Penguin Books. The launch list included successful authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and John Berger. They later published Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, alongside books by Ivan Klima and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Granta Books was expanded in 1997 and subsequently quadrupled its publishing programme. They brought in authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Edward W. Said and Iain Sinclair. Bill Buford’s original vision was to maintain the editorial principle which governed the magazine: to publish “only writing we care passionately about.” The press has held on to this passion and enthusiasm through the years.
Granta was acquired by Publisher Sigrid Rausing in 2005. This allowed Granta to grow their roster of authors, keeping their literary vision in mind. Their current authors include A. M. Homes, Barbara Demick, Rebecca Solnit, Eleanor Catton, Ben Lerner, Madeleine Thien, Jenny Offill, Mark O’Connell, Lisa Halliday, Han Kang and Sayaka Murata. They have also recently launched a prize-winning poetry list under the supervision of the magazine’s poetry editor Rachael Allen.
Granta is owned by the Granta Trust, a charity established in 2019 to promote emerging writers. The press now publishes about thirty new titles each year. They are also part of The Independent Alliance, a global alliance of UK publishers, and their international partners who encourage a common vision of editorial excellence. They value originality, diverse publishing, innovation in marketing and commercial success. Other publishers within this alliance include Faber & Faber and Lonely Planet. This unique umbrella organisation represents independence, integrity, quality and range in a growingly centralised marketplace.
Granta Books is proud of its ability to offer authors the intimacy of a small and creative team whilst also continually reaching new levels of sales and cultural impact. They have been celebrated for their ‘Best of Young’ issues, which promote important voices from each generation, and have also published twenty-seven Nobel Prize laureates.
Granta Books has held and attended many exciting events, including Best of Young Spanish Language Novelists and several launch events. Their highlights of 2022 include many wonderful titles, such as Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit and The Unfolding by A. M. Homes. Alongside this, books published by Granta regularly win prizes such as the Forward Prize, the T. S. Elliot Prize and the Pushcart Prize, among others.
The latest releases are Weasels in the Attic by Hiroko Oyamada, an uncanny and striking reflection on fertility, masculinity and marriage in contemporary Japan, and Heritage Aesthetics by Anthony Anaxagorou, a brilliant experimentation with form to create a vivid insistence to communicate a self in the world. Alongside promoting these emerging authors, Granta has a podcast which shines a spotlight on interesting figures. Most recently, they have interviewed Eula Biss on her book Having and Being Had. In this episode, they posed the question: “What does it say about capitalism that we have money and want to spend it but we can’t find anything worth buying?”.
The publisher also releases an annual list of the Best Young British Novelists. The list includes twenty names of emerging young British authors to watch out for in the future. Whilst some choices have been viewed as controversial, such as the 2003 naming of Monica Ali before she had even published a novel, many of those identified have subsequently won or been shortlisted for major literary awards. They occasionally print a list of emerging American novelists and a list of Spanish language novelists.
Granta Books continue to champion their core belief in the power of stories. The press has frequently been praised for its fusion of forms and genres alongside its championing of contemporary realist fiction. They are consistently evolving and reimagining, which has enabled them to become a leading publisher of both literary fiction and upmarket non-fiction.