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The Mays Literary Anthology (or just The Mays) is an anthology of new writing by students from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. In 1992, when Peter Ho Davies, Adrian Woolfson, and Ron Dimant came up with the original concept for the Mays, the publication was split into two separate anthologies; one devoted to prose and the other to poetry. In 2003 the Mays became a single publication.
Each year, the Mays receives hundreds of submissions from students at Oxford and Cambridge. In 2006 the Mays received a record 1,100 entries. The Editorial Committee (composed of students from both universities) review the submissions during Lent Term.
The Mays is broader in scope than most university literary projects: it is sold in bookstores and by delivery nationwide; it is distributed to every major literary agent; and each year a guest editor — usually a prominent author, poet, or artist — writes an introduction to the anthology. Previous guest editors include: Margaret Drabble and Jon Stallworthy (1992), Michael Dibdin and Seamus Heaney (1993), Stephen Fry (1994), Ted Hughes (1995), Penelope Fitzgerald (1996), Christopher Reid and Jill Paton Walsh (1997), Sebastian Faulks and J.H. Prynne (1998), Penelope Lively and John Kinsella (1999), Paul Muldoon and Lawrence Norfolk (2000), Zadie Smith and Michael Donaghy (2001), Andrew Motion and Nick Cave (2002), Ali Smith (2003), Philip Pullman (2004), Robert Macfarlane (2005), Don Paterson and Jeanette Winterson (2006), Colm Toibin (2007), Ian Patterson (2008), Patti Smith (2009), Amit Chaudhuri, Tom Raworth (2010),, Jarvis Cocker (2011), John Darnielle, Tao Lin, Toby Litt (2012), Michael Frayn, David Harsent, Tom Phillips (2013), John Fuller, Paul Farley, Ben Okri, Prajwal Parajuly, Emma Chichester Clark and Alexander Gilkes (2014), Roger Mcgough and Rupi Kaur (2016).
The Mays is often noted for launching the career of novelist Zadie Smith. Her work appears in two of the short story editions (1996 and 1997). Literary agencies first took notice of Smith after seeing her story "Mrs. Begum’s Son and the Private Tutor" in the 1997 collection. Smith guest edited the Mays in 2001. Her quip "maybe in a few years this lot will have me out of a job" has become a catch phrase for the publication.