The New Yorker magazine recently published its Summer Fiction issue. It includes a list of what its editors deem as the 20 novelists under the age of 40 worth watching, an endeavor destined to be as contentious as it no doubt was excruciating to craft. (There's a reason the magazine hasn't published such a list in more than a decade.) —-
Their “20 Under 40” includes 10 women and 10 men from places that range from Chicago to Ethiopia. Several familiar names appear (Nicole Krauss, ZZ Packer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Gary Shteyngart and Wells Tower) alongside a few I'm not familiar with, let alone read (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dinaw Mengestu and Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum).
There was also one slight surprise: C.E. Morgan.
A Cincinnati native who currently calls Berea, Ky., home — she studied English and voice at Berea College and earned a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School — the 33-year-old writer made a splash last year with her first novel, All the Living, about an orphaned woman who moves to rural Kentucky with her lover.
I've yet to read All the Living (it's been sitting in a pile with other intended reads at my house), but The New Yorker previously said of it, “This lyrical tale of grief and grueling love on a tobacco farm takes place in the mid-nineteen-eighties but, if not for glimpses of linoleum and double-wides, might recall an earlier time. … Morgan is an expansive stylist, fond of rare words (“letheless,” “mortise”) and of the circumlocutions that can pass for plain speaking, but her pacing is shrewd. By the time the harvest is done, two lonely people are fused, if not consoled.”
Preceding The New Yorker's list, The National Book Foundation last year named Morgan one of its “5 Under 35.” (The only other writer who appears on both lists is Karen Russell.)
Here's video of Morgan reading at the NBF gathering last year:
Even more intriguing than Morgan's inclusion on The New Yorker list is the setting of her short story the magazine ran in the June 14 issue. Entitled “Twins,” it centers on 5-year-old twin brothers — one white (Mickey), one black (Allmon) — whose mother is black and father is white. Set in Northside and featuring numerous mentions of Cincinnati in general (from Mill Creek and Over-the-Rhine to its seven hills and porkopolis past), Morgan's 11-page story is an evocative, detail-rich look at the young lives of two boys who yearn for the love of their mostly AWOL truck-driver father and who yield fascination from their Northside neighbors, some of whom refer to them as the “Oreo babies."
One can't help but wonder how much of "Twins" comes from the author's own first-person Cincinnati experience.
From the opening sentence: "The boy and his twin brother grew up on the streets of Northside, down in the little choke valley, befouled by industry, between the university hill to the southeast and the neighborhood to the north, College Hill, which had no college, despite its name, only modest white houses hinting at the white suburbs to come."
Here's a short Q&A Morgan did with The New Yorker following the publication of the story. It mentions that she's currently working on a novel about "horse racing and race relations."