Chinese American writer Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is causing waves across the Atlantic with an auction and six-figure deal for two books with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as buzz around a UK deal begins.
The short story collection and novel were bought at auction by Jenna Johnson, executive editor at FSG, from Bill Clegg at The Clegg agency for North American rights. FSG will publish the story collection, Likes, in winter 2021 and the novel in winter 2023. It was understood to be a be a high six-figure advance (so a six-figure deal in Pound Sterling as well as US Dollars).
Marion Duvert, director of foreign rights at the Clegg Agency said: “We don’t disclose the level of deals, but it was a very competitive auction with multiple bidders—Sarah was in New York for a whole week meeting with editors. Internationally, we’re waiting for the edited story collection to proceed to a wide submission in the territories where Sarah doesn’t have an option publisher.”
Anna Webber, of United Agents, is representing in the UK but has not yet submitted to publishers.
FSG described Likes as “a short story collection exploring friendship and motherhood, celebrity and obsession, love and loneliness, which weaves in elements of contemporary life - including social media, fairy tale, and myth”.
The currently untitled novel is billed as exploring “art, ambition, entertainment, race, and community, following a mother and daughter, newly arrived in a historic, gentrifying Los Angeles neighbourhood, who become progressively fascinated by, then involved with the family who lives across the street - the last of the original homeowners and the only other mixed race residents”.
Her writing has drawn comparisons to authors such as Angela Carter and Kazuo Ishiguro, FSG said. Her first two books, Madeleine Is Sleeping and Ms Hempel Chronicles, were published by the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in America with only the latter published in the UK, by Atlantic in 2010.
Johnson said: “I've been mesmerised by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum's work since I read her marvelous, marvelously strange, dreamy and precise novel Madeleine Is Sleeping, in 2003 - I nabbed an early print-out when I was an assistant at Harcourt and then watched, awe-struck in the front row, as this incredible talent stunned the literary world.
“Her second book, Ms Hempel Chronicles [published in the UK by Atlantic] cemented my obsession with her work - its mixture of playfulness and heart and intellect, its preoccupation with the nexus of darkness and wonder, its pristine prose and wild imagination. Her characters are odd and so easy to identify with at the same time; they are human and superhuman and grotesque and beautiful. These new books are in keeping with her first two, and take us further into her ideas about adolescence, parenthood, obsession, pain and love and longing. She's an incredible observer of human nature and investigator of human connection.”
Bynum is based in Los Angeles and has been a National Book Award Finalist and a winner of the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, as well as a PEN/Faulkner Finalist. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, amongst other publications. She was a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Fellowship, she was also named one of the New Yorker's “20 Under 40” fiction writers.