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New Yorker Fiction by the Numbers: The Many Stories by the Few

By posted at 6:54 pm on January 8, 2009 4

Earlier this week we took a qualitative look at recent fiction in the New Yorker, and now, with help from a Millions reader, we’re going to take a quantitative look.

Last year, Frank Kovarik, who writes and teaches English in St. Louis, sent us a spreadsheet that he has used to catalog New Yorker fiction since 2003. We looked at the numbers last year, and now, with another year of data included, were going to revisit Frank’s spreadsheet.

Frank’s spreadsheet records not just the titles and authors, but things like gender, country of origin, and frequency of appearance. He also includes his own personal quality rating for each story (your mileage may vary).

Frank has once again generously offered to make his spreadsheet available to Millions readers. If you’re interested, you can see it here.

With six years of fiction compiled, we can get some hard info on the New Yorker’s tendencies.

Frequency: The headline takeaway from this exercise is just how many of the stories that appear in the New Yorker come from just a few writers. Just nine writers account for 73 (or 23%) of the 312 stories to appear over the last six years. Just 18 writers account for 118 (or 38%) of the stories. When discussing New Yorker fiction, I often hear complaints about how rarely the magazine surprises readers with talented but less well known writers. This is undoubtedly a valid complaint. While many of the New Yorker’s favorite fiction writers happen to be brilliant masters of the form – Alice Munro and George Saunders come to mind – it’s also true that readers can grow weary of these same voices recurring again and again. On the flip side of this argument, however, there are 76 writers who have each appeared a single time in the New Yorker over the last six years (almost 13 per year), though only nine one-timers appeared in 2008.

Gender: Of the 312 stories in the New Yorker from 2003 through 2008, 119 or 38.1% were penned by women. (That’s up from 37.4% last year.)

Nationality: The fiction section of the New Yorker is a pretty multi-cultural place, but Americans still make up the bulk of the contributors. 157 of the stories, or 50% (down from 52% after 2007), are American (and this leaves off several writers who could be conceivably classified as both American and a native of another country). Coming in in second are the Brits at 22 stories and in third the Irish at 21 stories.

Returning to the frequency question, below are all the writers who have appeared in the New Yorker at least five times over the last six years. These are the superstars of New Yorker fiction:

12:

  • Alice Munro

10:

  • William Trevor

8:

  • T. Coraghessan Boyle
  • Tessa Hadley

7:

  • Louise Erdrich
  • John Updike
  • Roddy Doyle
  • Haruki Murakami

6:

  • Thomas McGuane

5:

  • Antonya Nelson
  • Tobias Wolff
  • George Saunders
  • Charles D’Ambrosio
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Edward P. Jones
  • Roberto Bolaño
  • Lara Vapnyar





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4 Responses to “New Yorker Fiction by the Numbers: The Many Stories by the Few”

  1. Benjamin Chambers
    at 1:21 pm on January 9, 2009

    Max – it's hard to argue with the numbers, but I will say that my mind on this has been changed. I, too, used to have the impression that *The New Yorker* tended to publish a lot of the same writers, over and over, even though the field of authors it published had opened up a lot since Bill Buford took over as fiction editor under Tina Brown.

    This was the first year in which I actually read every single story the magazine published, and I was pleasantly surprised by how many authors I'd never heard of, such as John Burnside, Rivka Galchen, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Yiyun Lee, Wells Tower, and Joshua Ferris. (Okay, it's true I know Mr. Ferris courtesy of The Millions, but he'd never published a story in TNY before.) These aren't household names, and most of them had their first publication in TNY this year. Then there were several highly-regarded writers whom I'd never read or never heard of, such as Janet Frame, Andrea Lee, Daniel Alarcon, Roberto Bolano, and J.M.G. LeClezio.

    Could I have done with fewer stories by T.C. Boyle, John Updike, Alice Munro, and Roddy Doyle? Sure. But I no longer believe that to see an unknown writer in the pages of TNY is a miraculous event: it happens regularly, and seems to result from a clear editorial commitment.

  2. James
    at 5:12 pm on January 9, 2009

    I didn't realize that the New Yorker had published so many Roberto Bolaño stories, having seen only a couple of them myself. All the more surprising that they gave such short shrift to 2666 in their review section.

  3. Links: Yan Martel, short story stats, blowing up arts journalists, etc. | books@torontoist
    at 11:09 am on November 10, 2009

    [...] Oates and John Updike. Mavis Gallant is also near the head of the pack. A similar breakdown of stories that have appeared in the New Yorker since 2003 revealed that Munro also lead that list. (via The [...]

  4. Fiction Writers Review » Blog Archive » Best American Short Stories by the numbers
    at 1:51 am on November 23, 2009

    [...] earlier this year, The Millions did both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the New Yorker. A couple years back, a Princeton undergrad did the same. The results [...]

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