British Library acquires Granta magazine archive

British Library acquires Granta magazine archive

The British Library has acquired the 40-year archive of Granta magazine featuring letters and papers from authors including Margaret Atwood, JG Ballard, Angela Carter and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Originally started by Cambridge students in 1889, it was relaunched in 1979 by editor Bill Burford and transformed into a leading literary magazine. It helped launched the careers of many contemporary UK writers including Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Ishiguro.

Now a 300-box archive of material, a trove of information on everything from publishing concerns and relationships with agents to discussions on gender and race, is being given to the British Library.

One 1979 letter from Kingsley Amis to the magazine contained the memorable line: “I am afraid you are almost certain to be unable to afford me.”

Another missive from Martha Gellhorn accuses the magazine of being “in the pocket of these Penguin people”, while a 1979 Susan Sontag letter berates the standard of UK literature, saying: “It seems hard now to imagine that yours is the country which produced, among others, Virginia Woolf.”


Letter to Granta by Susan Sontag © 1979, The Estate of Susan Sontag; letter to Granta by Kingsley Amis © 1979, by permission of the Wylie Agency on behalf of the Estate of Kingsley Amis

Granta ediot Sigrid Rausing said: “I am delighted that the Granta archive has found a permanent home at The British Library, where it will be preserved and finally made available to scholars and lovers of literature alike. The material generated from 40 years of publishing Granta does so much more than simply showcase the history of our beloved literary quarterly: it also reveals how a plucky American, determined to shake things up by bringing new, edgy American writing to British readers, accidently ended up championing some of Britain’s – and indeed the world’s – most exciting writers. As a major research centre which attracts readers from all over the world, the Granta archive is now in the best of hands.’

Alongside other correspondence from Iris Murdoch, Raymond Carver, Doris Lessing and Gellhorn, there are marked-up proofs, back issues, original letters to authors, agents and literary organisations and documents on readership, marketing, design and finance.

To coincide with the acquisition, the British Library will be hosting “Literature in Crisis? 40 Years of Granta”, featuring author AL Kennedy in conversation with Granta’s Rosalind Porter and chaired by Samira Ahmed, on 22nd July.

Rachel Foss, head of contemporary archival and manuscripts collections at the British Library, said: “This is an archive of remarkable depth and completeness, charting the intricacies of the day-to-day workings of the magazine that became a literary phenomenon and including hundreds of original, unpublished letters from leading authors, many notable for their depth of detail, personal exchange, playfulness, and even anger."