New Yorker Fiction by the Numbers

January 6, 2010 | 16 2 min read

In 2007 and 2008, 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, and now, with another year of data included, we’re going to revisit it.

Frank’s spreadsheet records not just the titles and authors of the stories published in the New Yorker, 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; he writes about his favorites here).

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

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

Frequency:
The first thing we always look at is if the New Yorker is bringing new writers into the mix or sticking with its old standbys. Just 10 writers account for 82 (or 23%) of the 358 stories to appear over the last seven years. Just 18 writers account for 124 (or 35%) of the stories. The New Yorker is sometimes criticized for featuring the same writers again and again, but it appears to be getting better on this front. The 18 “standbys” noted above and listed below accounted for only 7 of the 49 stories published in 2009 (or 14%). On the flip side of this argument, 15 writers appeared in the New Yorker for the first time in 2009 (at least since 2003).

Gender:
Of the 358 stories in the New Yorker from 2003 through 2009, 131 or 36.6% were penned by women. (That’s down from 38.1% 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. 184 of the stories, or 51% (up from 50% after 2008), 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 29 stories and in third the Irish at 23 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 (stars indicate the number of stories, if any, they had in the New Yorker in 2009.):

12:

  • Alice Munro

10:

  • Tessa Hadley**
  • William Trevor

8:

  • T. Coraghessan Boyle

7:

  • George Saunders**
  • Jonathan Lethem**
  • Louise Erdrich
  • John Updike
  • Roddy Doyle
  • Haruki Murakami

6:

  • Antonya Nelson*
  • Thomas McGuane

5:

  • Tobias Wolff
  • Charles D’Ambrosio
  • Edward P. Jones
  • Roberto Bolaño
  • Lara Vapnyar

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.

16 comments:

  1. Tessa who? I’m sure she’s someone I should know (despite an aversion to New Yorker fiction), but it’s kind of remarkable to see that the second-most published writer by the New Yorker in the past seven years is someone I’ve never heard of who is the only one in the top seventeen that doesn’t rate a Wikipedia entry.

  2. What I find kind of interesting is that certain writers appear so frequently, though the New Yorker doesn’t seem to have any fixed aesthetic, e.g. Haruki Murakami seems like such a different writer than Alice Munro.

  3. It doesn’t surprise me that Americans make up the majority of the writers; what I’m interested in is how many of those American writers are of ethnic minority?

  4. Though changing now with the internet, large portion of the New Yorker readership is likely US-based. Also, if I am not mistaken, US is the largest short story market in the US. Why is it surprising (or even relevant) that most writers who are published in the New Yorker are Americans. I am sure

    Like another comment here (“Tessa who?”), I too am surprised by a name I do not know as the #2 contributor but I take it as more my ignorance than any sort of bias by New Yorker. I have no affiliation with them nor read them regularly but trust their judgment when it comes to short stories because almost all the names here are leading authors when it comes to the genre. (Of course, I have not read or heard of some of them – Tessa Hadley, Roddy Doyle, Thomas McGuane, Charles D’Ambrosio, Edward Jones – but like I said, that just means I have not been paying attention!)

    Munro (the queen of this genre!), Trevor, Boyle, Saunders, Lethem, Erdrich, Updike, Murakami, Nelson, Wolff, Bolano, Vapnyar… surely a who’s who of short story writers in this decade! (Surprised to not see one of my favorites, Lorrie Moore, but she probably did not contribute many short stories; being busy with a recently published novel. “Child-Care” was recently published but it fed into that book, I believe. (Have not read the novel, just the short story.)

    Anyways, interesting to see the list. Not surprising but happy to see Munro at the top! Thanks, Frank.

    P.S. Do not understand why ethnicity should even matter when it comes to what a magazine publishes.

    P.P.S. Found this blog only today. I will join and going ahead, hope to participate more in discussions.

  5. Interesting comments. It might also be worth noting that the top three writers—Munro, Hadley, and Trevor—aren’t American. They’re Canadian, British, and Irish, respectively.

  6. Would be fascinating to see statistics like these from 1925 and see just how much (or little?) things have changed over time.

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