Once upon a time, the chief business of the good literary magazines was discovery, the seeking and finding of new and gifted writers. They were discovered, and then they moved on to other stages and places. Old world has changed a whole lot since then. For at least twenty years the good literary magazines have been the permanent addresses of most of our best writers, and the function of these magazines has come, more and more, to be a showcase for the best work by the best (very often, too, the best "known") writers in the country. Which is surely fine and dandy but makes it much harder for new writers to find any place at all.
So we have asked some very good, established writers, at various stages of their own careers, to nominate some new writers for us. By "new" we mean only that, so far, they have not yet published a book. From a large number of nominations we have picked the representative selections here. The choices were, as always, at once difficult and whimsical; because there were so many good stories to pick and choose from, and some fine ones just couldn't or didn't fit in and had to be left out.
One of the first things you will notice is that, except for the names of these writers, at least most of which are likely to be new to you, the stories here are quite as good, if not better than any gathering of "stars." There are a lot of first-rate writers out there, working along, waiting for just the chance to show their stuff.
Note how the women, writing in several kinds of voices, are writing with grace and ease and a new kind of candor about the deeper feelings of sexuality, of pregnancy, of love and birth and death.
One of the things happening here and now is that our writing has finally begun to reflect and represent the wide diversity of American society. Thanks in part to the restless interest of a few good readers (pretty much the same readers, in fact, the few good ones, we have depended on for a century or more; namely, middle-aged and educated white women) and thanks, as well, to government and foundation and institutional support of the arts, which will now allow for a lifetime writing career without any real support at the marketplace. We are in the midst of an explosion of ethnic American literature. Peoples and races who had, until recently, small, soft, separate voices, if any, have now found voices for their views of the American experience. This is an important change.
Technically we seem to have arrived at a place where at least these beginning writers are seriously more than merely competent. More to the point, they are free and open to all kinds of methods, really to all the ways of telling stories and to every kind of story we know about. They seem to understand that the discovery and development of an individual voice is something more substantial than simply a trademark of technical identity, just as any true style includes point of view and implications along with its aesthetic signs.
Judging by the work of the gifted writers here, the signs and portents for the literary future are good ones.