University of Cambridge Contemporary Research Group

Contemporaries Critical Slam

small critical slam

12th JUNE  5-6.30pm

English Faculty, 9 West Road, G06-G07

Granta’s recently released issue 123 (The Best of Young British Novelists 2013) makes implicit but nonetheless bold claims about the nature of contemporary writing in Britain. Through its selection of the ‘best’, it suggests what we should value, who we should watch, and what aesthetic and thematic trends ought to be singled out as the most interesting issuing from the country’s current writers.

But do we agree? Is Granta’s ‘best’ really Britain’s? Do the authors selected tell us anything novel about the state? Does the selection represent ‘Britain’ in any meaningful way?

Join us for wine, snacks and a ‘balloon debate‘ on Granta issue 123.

Over the course of the evening, we will discuss the works collected in the issue, tackle the categories ‘Best’, ‘British’, and perhaps even ‘Young’, and discuss the shape and nature of contemporary writing in Britain today.

Join the not-so-polite debate.

Copies of Granta 123 are available to borrow or buy at a reduced rate from the desk at the English Faculty Library.

To register for the event email your name and affiliation to:

contemporaries at


 For more discussion see our ‘Conversations‘ page



  1. Jenny Bavidge

    The slamminess of our Critical Slam came in the form of 2.31 minutes of snap judgement/pithy critical commentary from members of the contemporaries group and other attendees and we asked for votes for a top three from those who’d made their way through the anthology.

    Our collective top two were:
    Sanjeev Sahota (a pretty clear winner)
    Adam Thirlwell

    with honourable mentions for:
    Ned Beauman, Thamima Anam, Sarah Hall and Taiye Selasi

  2. Kasia Boddy

    What I was trying to say on the day (but only formulated in the middle of the night a week later) is that the combination of first person and present tense makes many of the pieces feel like some kind of literaried-up version of the Guardian‘s hideous ‘Experience‘ feature – so acutely parodied by Ali Smith in There But For The. Now even The Paris Review says ‘what we’re loving

    This is There But For The, p.7:

    ‘He said did she know that he could sum up the last six decades of journalism in six words?

    I was there. There I was, he said.

    … By the middle of the twentieth-century every important report put it like this: I was there. Nowadays: There I was.

  3. David Trotter

    I began to miss the ‘mind the gap’ built into past-tense narration, too. I think that first-person present-tense narration is a cultural rather than literary habit, and merits investigating as such. But, then, when it comes to narrative technique, horses for courses. I really enjoyed the event. Finding one out of twenty writers I’ll keep reading seemed like a good return to me!

  4. Kasia Boddy

    I’ve just counted and 7 out of the 20 stories are written in the present tense. Is this a good thing?!

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