Volunteer Andrea takes in a Busboys and Poets reading by “Granta: Britain” authors Tania James and Gary Younge.
A respectful audience of strangers packed the Busboys and Poets theater just off of U Street. Tania James and Gary Younge had come to read from their works and take questions about their contributions to the 119th issue of Granta, focused on Britain and designed to show “the delicate human interactions within the sometimes brutal context of historical and contemporary Britain.”
Ms. James, a U.S. native who currently lives in D.C. but was a Fulbright fellow to India, read from her story “Lion and Panther in London.” The idea for the story came to her while she was doing historical research. “Lion and Panther in London” tells of two brothers from Lahore over a hundred years ago. The brothers are champion wrestlers, and they have come to London to prove themselves against foes who will not meet them on the mat. Through the story, Ms. James writes about dislocation, disappointment and family ties. In questions, Ms. James said that she was surprised to find herself feeling like an outsider when she wrote this story but that other writers through the ages must have felt the same way. Hyphenated identities are complicated, she said. Ms. James’ second book, Aerogramme, was released in May. Aerogramme is a collection of short stories that includes “Lion and Panther in London” and was named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Week.
Gary Younge was born in the United Kingdom to Barbadian parents. He lived in the English town of Stevenage until he was 17 and wrote for Granta about that place as it existed both during and after he lived there. Part overview of England’s forgotten sectors and part tribute to his “gregarious Mum who liked shopping” and raised several children on her own, “Stevenage” is the story of regular people living decent lives. In an accent Mr. Younge recognizes is “not quite London,” he grew up describing himself as displaced from Barbados, a location he only visited for six weeks when he was four years old. Mr. Younge’s hometown of Stevenage is on the edge, and one cannot help but feel that town balances always between ruin and prosperity without ever fighting too hard against the former or stretching too far toward the latter. In questions, Mr. Younge said that “Britain should be careful about who it pretends to be.” A resident of Chicago, Mr. Younge is an author, broadcaster, and award-winning columnist for The Guardian. His three published books utilize an outsider’s perspective to critique the way society works.
The British Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration was this weekend. The 2012 Summer Olympics will be in London in July. I cannot help but be fascinated by Britain’s people and how they shape and are shaped by the world around them.