Wednesday, October 12, 2011

National Book Award finalists announced

The National Book Foundation has just announced the finalists for this year's National Book Awards.  Here's the list:

The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories by Edith Pearlman
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker
Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution by Mary Gabriel
Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
Malcolm X by Manning Marable
Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney
The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa
Double Shadow by Carl Phillips
Tonight No Poetry Will Serve by Adrienne Rich
Devotions by Bruce Smith

Young People’s Literature:
My Name Is Not Easy by Debbie Dahl Edwardson
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

This comes from the NBF's website: "Established in 1950, the National Book Award is an American literary prize given to writers by writers and administered by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. A pantheon of such writers as William Faulkner, Marianne Moore, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, John Updike, Katherine Anne Porter, Norman Mailer, Lillian Hellman, Elizabeth Bishop, Saul Bellow, Donald Barthelme, Flannery O'Connor, Adrienne Rich, Thomas Pynchon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Alice Walker, Charles Johnson, E. Annie Proulx, and Colum McCann have all won the Award. Each year, the Foundation selects a total of twenty Judges, including five in each of the four Award categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature. Judges are published writers who are known to be doing great work in their genre or field, and in some cases, are past NBA Finalists or Winners...Each panel reads all of the books submitted in their category over the course of the summer. This number typically ranges from 150 titles (Poetry) to upwards of 500 titles (Nonfiction). In September, each panel compiles a "shortlist" of five Finalists...No one, not even the Foundation staff, learns who the Winners are until the day of the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, which takes place in mid-November in New York City. That afternoon, over lunch, each panel collectively decides who the Winner in their category will be. Often, this decision has been made ahead of time, but occasionally the panel works to come to a consensus until the very last minute. The panel chair announces the Winner at the Ceremony that evening."

You can cut the suspense with the edge of a friggin' page.

Last year's winners included the dark-horse in fiction (Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon) and a revered rocker (Patti Smith) in non-fiction.  So anything can happen this year.

I haven't read all of the nominees--okay, I've only read two--but there's little suspense for me as to who should take home the $10,000 and bronze sculpture in the fiction category.  While I deeply admired Andrew Krivak's The Sojourn and Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision is still high on my To-Be-Read list, my money is on Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife for the win.  It remains the most powerful book I read this year, both in terms of story and storytelling.  In the other categories, I'll take what we in the Army used to call a SWAG (seriously wild-ass guess) and say it will be Swerve in non-fiction and either Komunyakaa or Rich in the poetry category.  As for Young Adult, flip a coin in the air.

Now let's talk about who wasn't on this year's shortlist.  I'm surprised and disappointed not to see Volt by Alan Heathcock, We the Animals by Justin Torres, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, or The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach pop up in the Fiction category.  In Nonfiction, what about Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean or What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes?

Ah well, guess I'll be having sour grapes for dinner tonight....

The winners will be announced at the 62nd National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner in New York City on November 16, hosted by John Lithgow.

According to the National Book Foundation, in 2011, there were 1,223 books submitted for the National Book Awards. The number of books by genre were 315 for fiction, 441 for nonfiction, 189 for poetry, and 278 for young people's literature.

Update: An unprecedented sixth nominee has been added to the Young People's Literature category after a snafu during the announcement of the awards shortlist. As reported at The Huffington Post:
Shine by Lauren Myracle was announced in the live broadcast as one of the five nominees. However, Associated Press later reported that the book Chime by Franny Billingsley was supposed to have named instead. The National Book Foundation, which administers the awards, lists both on their website, which means that the category has an unprecedented six nominees, despite the description of the process on their own website stating that there are only five nominees in each category.
Nothing like a little "Oops!" to spice up (and draw attention to) what could be a hum-drum affair for most Americans unobsessed by books.

Update to the Update:  In a sad, bizarre turn of events, the NBA asked Myracle to withdraw her book from consideration "to preserve the integrity of the award."  Myracle did so, but I can only imagine the anger and resentment she felt as she did so.  She went from feeling on top of the world ("I was over the moon last week after receiving the call telling me that Shine was a finalist for the award") to someone who's had an honor snatched out of her grasp.  All because someone somewhere along the line misheard the title: Shine instead of Chime (whose author must be feeling pretty bad now as well).  Hey, NBA, I have another couple of words for you to play around with: "shame" and "blame."


  1. Hi David, just followed you over from Laura Maylene Walter's site. Had to check out Fobbit because it sounds familiar. Btw, my son was deployed around the same time and I'm looking forward to reading your work. Best.

  2. Such a bizarre situation; makes one wonder about the whole "integrity" issue because, if this is so important, why wasn't that list reviewed and rechecked and reviewed again.

    I'm sure some young editorial assistant has been sent packing, career possibilities shredded, all the blame placed squarely on her (I'm assuming, of course) shoulders.

  3. Shabby, shabby, shabby. Lauren Myracle is a wonderful person and writer, and does not deserve this kind of treatment (no one does). I hope that this cruel snafu brings her new readers, for she deserves them. My daughters are big fans.

    Susan Orlean's book came out in October and the submission date is in June. Maybe next year.

    As always, thanks, David, for all you do for writers and books.

  4. Hi! It's unclear to me whether Train Dreams would have been eligible or not: it originally appeared in The Paris Review in 2002. In any case, I would have expected to see Teju Cole's Open City on the list as well.

    I've published some more thoughts about the finalists in this blog post, if you're interested.