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Collaboration between Waseda Bungaku and the preeminent English literary magazine GRANTA

Tatsuya Kuboki
Waseda-Bungaku Editorial Department

It was more than 120 years ago that Shoyo Tsubouchi, an instructor at the Literature Department of Tokyo Senmon Gakko (later to become Waseda University School of Humanities and Social Sciences), founded Waseda Bungaku, an early literary magazine for broadly disseminating Waseda wisdom throughout the community. In the UK, across the sea from Japan, another literary magazine was founded 2 years earlier before Waseda Bungaku, in 1889, at Cambridge University. The magazine was originally named The GRANTA after the river that runs through the town. With support from a range of distinguished contributors, like A.A. Milne, the renowned author of the classic Winnie-the-Pooh children’s book series, and Sylvia Plath, a poet who won the Pulitzer Prize—one of the most prestigious awards in American writing—the magazine was published by students at Cambridge for a century or so after its founding.

A tower of copies of the first issue of GRANTA JAPAN at an event held as part of the Tokyo International Literary Festival 2014 to celebrate the launch of the magazine.

These two magazines—GRANTA and Waseda Bungaku—which have a lot in common, such as being launched within a short time of each other and both having been founded at a university (by former students), have joined forces to give birth to a new literary magazine, GRANTA JAPAN with Waseda Bungaku (hereinafter referred to as “GJ”). It will be published as a special edition of the Waseda Bungaku, which is published quarterly.

The 120 year plus history of each magazine has naturally seen some twists and turns. For the history of Waseda Bungaku, please read the first of this series, written by Makoto Ichikawa, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences at Waseda University, and Editorial Board Member and Director of Waseda Bungaku. After recurrent interruptions and resumptions of publication, the GRANTA was successfully relaunched in 1979, as GRANTA, the literary quarterly it remains today. Continuing to publish quality short works not only by British and American authors but also by writers from all over the world, ranging from Nobel laureates, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbia) and Orhan Pamuk (Turkey), to Haruki Murakami (Japan), GRANTA has grown into an internationally read literary magazine.

Meanwhile, it has developed partnerships with publishers in Spain, Italy, Brazil, China, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Portugal, Finland, Bulgaria and Israel—each of which has an editing department to publish their international editions of GRANTA.

GJ is one such international version of GRANTA that was launched in March 2014, published by Waseda Bungaku-kai, with distribution support from Hayakawa Publishing Inc. and translation/publishing support from the Read Japan Program (The Nippon Foundation). The first issue of GJ has been planned from scratch through close joint editing between the British and Japanese editing departments to create a “world literature” publication to which 20 writers who come from and reside in different parts of the world and write in different languages—Japanese, English and Spanish—contributed. (This special issue of GRANTA has been published simultaneously in Japanese and English, as the first issue of GJ and GRANTA 127: Japan respectively.)

GRANTA JAPAN with Waseda Bungaku 01 (2014)
Cover illustration by Judit Ferencz, an illustrated based in the UK.

GRANTA 127: Japan (2014)
Cover featuring the same “mountain” motif as GRANTA JAPAN 01.

GRANTA’s Best of Young issues are the magazine’s flagship issues that have earned it an international reputation. Its list of England's brightest young writers has a strong track record of elevating relatively unknown novelists into the literary spotlight, including such leading contemporary authors as Ian McEwan (who was 35 when he was selected) and Kazuo Ishiguro (who was 29 when he was selected). The list can include both relatively established authors and emerging ones recognized as the next generation of literary talent. Quite a few novelists who were barely known before their names appeared on this list have moved up onto a bigger stage thanks to this listing. For example, Kazuo Ishiguro had only made his debut the year before he was listed as one of the “Best of Young British Novelists” and published lively short stories in the special issue, which are seen as having led to his breakthrough novel An Artist of the Floating World.

The previous editor of GRANTA, John Freeman, says that continuing to search for and publish new talent for the special issues allows this magazine with a long history to stay young forever. Actually, GRANTA’s philosophy is to send out new works the world with each issue as an eternally fresh medium. As such, those Best of Young issues can be said to form the core of the magazine.

GRANTA’s Best of Young issues—the first one of which was published in 1983—have spread beyond the UK and the U.S. to Spanish-speaking countries, Brazil and Finland by now, to showcase the Best of Young Novelists in each country.

GRANTA JAPAN 02 (2015)
Featuring “Best of Young” novelists from English- and Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil, in addition to new novels that eight distinguished Japanese authors have contributed.

The second issue of GJ, scheduled for this spring, will generously feature such Best of Young Novelists, by publishing translations of great works by authors from different countries included in the list whose works have never before been translated into Japanese.

With the publication of another issue in spring 2016 in sight, GJ has finally launched an original project to release the highly-anticipated list of “Best of Young Japanese Novelists.” A new project team has been formed to strictly select the 10 “most promising young Japanese novelists under 40” and showcase them to both Japanese and overseas readers.

The project team consists of six members: Toshiyuki Horie (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Waseda Bungaku Editorial Board Member), Makoto Ichikawa (Associate Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Waseda Bungaku Editorial Board Member), Akira Yamaguchi (Editor in Chief at Hayakawa Publishing), David Karashima (Assistant Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education/GRANTA JAPAN International Editor), Hajime Kaizawa (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Waseda Bungaku Editor) and Tatsuya Kuboki (GRANTA JAPAN Deputy Editor in Chief). They are all striving now to list an appealing and colorful selection of writers spanning the boundaries of different genres.

Another project for the “Best of Young Japanese Novelists” issue, named “Plus 1 Competition,” is scheduled to start this September. This “plus one” slot has been set up to discover new talent by inviting the public to submit their works, selecting the best one out of them and publishing it in GJ alongside the 10 authors listed by the project team. Furthermore, there are plans to translate the winner's works into English to reach readers across the world. This project is almost one of a kind, although Japan has a lot of novel writing competitions open to the public.

Akira Yamaguchi, Editor in Chief at Hayakawa Publishing, who has proposed this project, shares his expectations for the Plus 1 Competition, saying “It will be interesting if the competition brings about changes in how Japanese novelists write their novels by allowing them to assume that their novels can be read also by overseas readers whose common knowledge is different from that of people living in Japan,” which he feels is an anticipated outcome of the project, in addition to discovering unknown talent and making GJ known more widely.

The competition solicits short stories from writers of both sexes and all nationalities, irrespective of whether or not they are already professional writers. The only limitation is age; they need to be “young,” more specifically, no older than 40 at the time of publication. Writers writing in Japanese are highly sought after to participate in the competition.

In the initial screening, young editors involved in the project will take turns on a weekly basis to screen submitted works and the results will be announced online immediately after the screening. Those who fail to pass the screening are allowed to submit the same or revised works to be examined by different editors as many times as they want as long as it's during the submission period (An entry ticket is required for each submission.).

Works that pass the initial screening will be closely examined at several more stages and eventually by the above project team until the best work is selected.

The work selected as “Plus 1” will be published in the third issue of GJ, together with 10 works by the “Best of Young Japanese Novelists.” It will also be translated into English and sent to the British editing department of GRANTA, as well as the editing departments of respective international editions of GRANTA, meaning that it can be published in them as well.

Incidentally, all works contained in the first issue of GJ have been translated into English and published in GRANTA’s issue dedicated to Japan. Of them, “A Clean Marriage” by Sayaka Murata and “The Dogs” by Yukiko Motoya have been published in the “Treason” issue of GRANTA Brazil and the “Sex” issue of GRANTA Finland and in the “Evil” issue of GRANTA Italy, respectively, and are spanning the globe.

Details of how to enter the competition are available in the autumn issue of Waseda Bungaku that is now on sale and on the website of Waseda-Bungaku Editorial Department(http://www.bungaku.net/wasebun/).

You are all encouraged to take part in the competition, either as a writer or as a reader, to witness the moment of birth of a new rising star, emerging from Waseda Bungaku and gaining passage onto the world stage!

Tatsuya Kuboki
Waseda-Bungaku Editorial Department

After graduating from the Waseda University School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I in 2006, Tatsuya Kuboki joined the editorial team at Waseda Bungaku in 2008, where he has been involved in projects such as “U 30,” a special extra edition dedicated to young writers under 30. He has been studying at the Department of Contemporary Literary Studies, University of Tokyo, since 2013. Being the person in charge of the business aspects of the GRANTA JAPAN with Waseda Bungaku on the Japanese side (Deputy Editor in Chief), he has been working to translate a diversity of values, including those of the London-based British editing department of GRANTA, into magazines.