2014 will go down as a landmark year in independent literature, chiefly because a few longstanding “trends” or “developments” are hardening into verifiable traits of fiction and poetry beyond Big Publishing. To begin with, independent poetry, noted especially here in the works of Claudia Rankine and Andrew Durbin, is becoming more sophisticated in the way it encroaches upon other forms of visual and literary art. Elsewhere, in fiction, a greater tendency toward autofictional novels of emotional maturation — typically in a cruel world — is colliding with the arriving generation’s faith in the bending of genres. The increasing confidence these writers have in their forms is beginning to show in the way they assert themselves against an older generation, sure, but it’s also showing up in the quality of the books. Plainly put: line for line, stanza for stanza, independent writing, and therefore independent publishing, is better than it was just a few years ago.
I’ll add a single note: I’ve left out “literary non-fiction” because I didn’t want to navigate the huge expanse of books that could possibly fit within that category.
Citizen, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)
I’ll come out and say it: Rankine got robbed at the National Book Awards. (But I’ve already made that case.) No matter, this formally stunning lyric will stand the test of time. In a century, most of the books on any list will be forgotten, but Rankine’s Citizen will rest in our hands, like an astrolabe, measuring the distance between privileged and disenfranchised bodies, pushing us both forward and backward in time.