Was 2014 the Year of the Debut?
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Nearly a million books are published each year in the US by some estimates. Even if we trim that number down to just “literary books” (whatever that term means), there are thousands of books filling the shelves each year. As such, it can be a little silly to sum up an etire year of books in any way. And yet, years do seem to have flavors and different books become part of the conversation each time. So, at the risk of violating my own advice from two sentences ago, I’m going to suggest that 2014 might be the year of the debut.
2014 was the year Phil Klay’s debut collection Redeployment won the National Book Award. It was the year Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing won a half-dozen awards. The year Andy Weir’s The Martian went from self-published debut to SF sensation (and winner of Goodreads choice award in Science Fiction).
Then there are the books that were not technically first books published, but were the first books to break an author out into a large audience. Leslie Jamison had previously published a novel, but her debut essay collection The Empathy Exams became the rare indie press book to make a the New York Times Bestseller list. Roxane Gay published a short story collection in 2011, but her 2014 debut novel (An Untamed State) and debut essay collection (Bad Feminist) saw her rocket to household name status.
This is not to say that major established writers didn’t release great books. Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters, David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, among others, all got great reviews. Still, those books didn’t dominate the conversation the way that novels from established writers often do. (Think of how the following books controlled the conversation in 2013: The Goldfinch, The Tenth of December, The Circle, Doctor Sleep, Bleeding Edge, and The Flamethrowers.) This year, new voices were making a disproportionate amount of the racket.
So I’m going to call it: 2014 was the year of debuts. If you don’t believe me, here is a (by no means complete!) list of stellar 2014 debuts for your perusal:
The Wilds by Julia Elliott