The last time the New Yorker complied their “20 under 40” was 1999.
I had just entered the MFA program at Goddard. I hadn’t yet published a story. I was deathly afraid everyone would soon notice that I wasn’t a “real” writer. And then this list had to come out and prove definitively that I wasn’t.
I was 29 years old and nowhere near getting published in the New Yorker. (And I’m still not. In fact, to date, I have received five of their nifty rejection slips that are hardly bigger than Post-It notes.)
I read all the stories, hot with envy and ready to give up. And then I read a sentence that gave me pause – and has helped me relax many times in the ensuing eleven years.
Sherman Alexie was one of the writers included in the 1999 list and the article about him included a former writing teacher saying that (paraphrasing here), “Sherman wasn’t the most talented writer in the class but he worked the hardest.”
This spoke to me then and continues to encourage me. I feel that I am not the most talented writer, so I must use everything else I have – my drive, pride, dedication, organizational skills, and sheer stubbornness – to make up for it. And usually I’m okay with that.
Until now. This week, they introduced a new list, and yet again I was left off!
Looking back, it would be my wildest dream to be included in that 1999 list. In addition to Sherman Alexie, it included Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Franzen, Junot Diaz, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon. Just a couple of Pulitzer and National Book Award winners there, no big deal.
So I didn’t get on the list in 1999 and I’m not on there now (perhaps because I haven’t actually published a book).
It’s like I’m in the minor leagues watching the major league players. I’m learning from them, watching their moves, studying their techniques.
Soon, hopefully, I’ll be called up to The Show. Then watch out!