This essay illuminates the history of what David Foster Wallace dubbed the “conspicuously young” novelist (CYN), drawing on a series of brief case studies (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Radiguet, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, and James Baldwin) that demonstrate how certain CYNs were marketed and represented in advertising and journalistic discourse. In the process, it traces the construction of a number of ostensibly meritocratic—but in practice highly inequitable—institutions that functioned to identify, sponsor, and promote young writers. Finally, this essay examines the pervasive critical rhetoric of “promise,” which offers the key to understanding the dynamic of hype and disappointment immanent to each “younger generation” of CY writers.

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