The magazine was founded in 1889 by students at Cambridge University as The Granta, a periodical of student politics, badinage and literary enterprise, named after the river that runs through the town. In 1979, Bill Buford and Pete de Bolla transformed Granta from a student publication to the literary quarterly it remains today.
Granta Books came ten years later, originally setting out to publish six books a year, distributed and promoted by Penguin. The launch list included John Berger’s Once in Europa, Gabriel García Márquez’s Clandestine in Chile, Martha Gellhorn’s The View from the Ground and Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine. Buford later published Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and books by Ivan Klima and Hans Magnus Enzensberger. He aimed to hold on to the editorial principle that had governed the magazine: to publish ‘only writing we care passionately about’.