The Great American Novel

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If you’ve been wondering what the greatest work of American fiction has been in the last 25 years, wonder no more. The New York Times Book Review has surveyed a wide swath of the literary field. Tony Morrison’s Beloved topped the charts with 15 votes and Philip Roth emerged the patriarch of the Great American Novel, having spawned 6, of the 22 finalists. The results do not surprise but they do leave you pondering the future of American writing–nearly all of the finalists were born in the 1930’s–their successors are scarcely around.

In this hour we’re inviting writers, literary bloggers and publishers to discuss American literature: past, present and future. If you ask yourself to name the greatest American novel of the last 25 years do you inadvertently think of writers from other shores, or books written from earlier eras? Are you still reading the American novel or do memoirs, and short story collections dominate your nightstand stack? Will the great American novelists of our future be outsiders– immigrants who can see our society anew? Will a new, national narrative surface in works of fiction as we begin to digest September 11, Katrina and the war in Iraq? Will a writer ever fully supplant The Catcher in the Rye or have we outgrown our adolescent angst for good? What are your criteria for the Great American Novel?

James Wood

Author and literary critic

Mark Greif

Co-Editor, n+1

Ruth Franklin

Senior Editor, The New Republic

Dennis Loy Johnson

Literary blogger, Moby Lives, publisher, Melville House

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