Archives: Literary Prizes

Awards Update

May 18, 2011 

Here’s the latest on 2011′s literary prizes. It’s shaping up to be a year of controversy:

Philip Roth has won the 2011 Man Booker International Prize, which is presented every two years to a living author who publishes in English or whose work is widely available in translation into English. Not everyone was happy about the decision. Man Booker International Prize judge Carmen Callil, a writer and founder of publishing house Virago, resigned in protest. She told the Guardian, “He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.” Callil was also disappointed that the prize was not awarded to a writer in translation.

Jennifer Egan won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for A Visit from the Good Squad, which I have raved about previously on this blog. Egan stirred up some controversy when, in an interview directly after winning the prize, she said of the Harvard student who a few years ago plagarized from other books for use in her debut novel, that she had “plagarized very derivative, banal stuff.” This was taken by some to be an insult against chick-lit authors like Megan McCafferty, whose novels were some of the works stolen by the Harvard student. Egan has since apologized and if the literary world wasn’t already past it, I’m sure the Philip Roth controversy will put the nail in that coffin. Egan did tell Ron Hogan, writer and blogger at, that she believes “there’s an interesting conversation to be had about genre and gender and literary culture.” I hope she’ll say more about that.

Adan Levin won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award for his 1,000-page novel, The Instructions. The award is given each year to a writer 35 years or younger for a novel or book of short stories. Although I still have not had a chance to read it, The Instructions was the reason I joined The Rumpus book club. Here’s a synopsis of the book from McSweeneys: “Beginning with a chance encounter with the beautiful Eliza June Watermark and ending, four days and 900 pages later, with the Events of November 17, this is the story of Gurion Maccabee, age ten: a lover, a fighter, a scholar, and a truly spectacular talker. Expelled from three Jewish day-schools for acts of violence and messianic tendencies, Gurion ends up in the Cage, a special lockdown program for the most hopeless cases of Aptakisic Junior High. Separated from his scholarly followers, Gurion becomes a leader of a very different sort, with righteous aims building to a revolution of troubling intensity.”

Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver (translated by Thomas Teal) took home the Best Translated Book Award in the fiction category. According to Three Percent, a website dedicated to international literature, “Jeff Waxman of the BTBA fiction committee describes Jansson’s most recent English-language publication as ‘a slender and modern novel about the relationship of two women in a small Scandinavian fishing community: one is cold, practical, and brutally honest; the other is an older, infantile children’s book illustrator. As the story unfolds in Jansson’s simple, understated prose, Katri Kling strives to provide a home and perhaps a livelihood for her younger brother; Anna Aemelin wants only to live life with her eyes closed, insulated by her money and her art. This panel found itself engrossed as their relationship grew tense and aggressive and their fields of battle expanded from Aemelin’s household finances to Katri’s brother and her pet dog. Subtle, engaging and disquieting, The True Deceiver is a masterful study in opposition and confrontation.’”

James Hynes won The Believer book award for his novel, Next. The editors of The Believer said of the book: “Kevin is a flaneur of the mind, though less a gentleman of leisure than the possible victim of twenty-first-century trans-industry obsolescence putting his internal affairs in order before the biggest party of his life. An often witty eulogy for sex, youth, Sigourney Weaver’s Alien-era biceps, and American notions of financial and physical security, Next is a work of intense nostalgia that never fails to comment upon the present as well as—in its final pages of split-second daring, and optimism, and heartbreak—the future.”

Awards Update

March 16, 2011 

March is a busy time for literary awards. Here’s a run down of the latest winners:

Jennifer Egan has won the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction for her novel in interlocking stories, A Visit from the Good Squad. Egan said that she had three rules for the book: (1) every chapter must have a different protagonist; (2) every chapter must have a different theme and feel; and (3) every chapter must stand alone. I am reading the book now and I can unequivocally say that Egan accomplished her goals. It’s astounding to me how perfectly constructed each chapter is.

Other NBCC winners were: Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (nonfiction); Darin Strauss, Half a Life (Autobiography); Sarah Bakewell, How to Live, A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Biography); C. D. Wright, One with Others: [a little book of her days] (Poetry); and Clare Cavanagh, Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West (Criticism).

Deborah Eisenberg has won the PEN/Faulkner Award for her Collected Stories, which brings together four volumes of Eisenberg’s work including 2007 PEN/Faulkner Finalist Twilight of the Superheroes. Maud Newton wrote of Eisenberg, “[She] is tenacious. She finds her way into characters’ lives slowly; her first story, “Days,” took three years to write, and she worked on some in her 2007 collection, Twilight of the Superheroes, for more than a year each. The depressive perceptual acuity that results from all this effort is uniquely hers; to compare it is to reduce it, and yet at its best her lucid but rambling narrative melancholia recalls all at once the passion of Anita Brookner, the furious remove of Jean Rhys, the detached abstraction of David Foster Wallace, the deft compression of Alice Munro and, occasionally, the downbeat, absurdist humor of Lorrie Moore.”

Anthony Doerr has won the Story Prize for his collection, Memory Wall. The New York Times said of Memory Wall: “[The stories are] about time and memory, and they move to a rhythm that suggests something pulsing under their calm surfaces, the steady breaking of old blood, old memories, the oldest waves of human feeling.” The other two finalists were Yiyun Li for Gold Boy, Emerald Girl and Suzanne Rivecca for Death Is Not an Option.

Brando Skyhorse has won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction for his debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park. According to the L.A. Times, “Skyhorse is at his best when exploring the changing world of Echo Park . . . The author claims this place as his authorial turf, mapping its streets and excavating its history. His careful attention to detail, to a rich past of a place that served as home to Mexican Americans already once displaced from Chavez Ravine, is thoroughly researched and executed — no easy feat while juggling multiple characters and timeframes.”

The Quick and Dirty on the National Book Awards

November 19, 2010 

Wednesday night I was feeling a little lonely down here in Buenos Aires as it seemed like everyone out there in the Twitterverse was at the National Book Awards in New York. Luckily, there were quite a few folks live-tweeting the event, so I heard all about the food (spinach and cheese cannelloni; branzino al forno in a bouillabaisse reduction; ricotta cheese cake with strawberry sauce), Elmo (wearing a tux; introduced Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of the Sesame Workshop and winner of the evening’s Literarian Award), and Tom Wolfe, who received the Medal for Distinguished Contributions (wearing a white suit; sang a bit of The Girl from Ipanema; talked way too long and people were starving). I ended up going to bed before the awards were announced (thanks Tom Wolfe!), but woke up early to hear all about the good news.

And the Winners are:

Fiction: Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule

Nonfiction: Patti Smith, Just Kids

Poetry: Terrance Hayes, Lighthead

Young Adult: Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird

I have to admit that I have not read any of the winning books, but they will all be added to my ever-growing Book Wish List.  (Friends and family: you’ll all be receiving a copy of this list as the holidays get closer.)

Patti Smith definitely wins the award for fan favorite. Not only had she brought everyone to tears the night before with a reading of the last letter she wrote (but never sent) to Robert Mapplethorpe before he died, but during her acceptance speech she delivered an impassioned speech in support of the book. “Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book,” she said. “There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.” Read the NYT’s review of Patti’s memoir here.

The buzz is that Jaimy Gordon was a dark horse, but the award is totally deserved. According to the National Book Foundation, Lord of Misrule is set in “the ruthless and often violent world of cheap horse racing, where trainers and jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers, loan sharks and touts all struggle to take an edge, or prove their luck, or just survive.”  Read Jane Smiley’s review in the Washington Post here.

I am also looking forward to reading one of the other finalists for the fiction prize, I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita, a book in ten novellas centering on a residential hotel during San Francisco’s Yellow Power Movement in the 1960s and 70s. Kirkus Reviews says, “Elements of the picaresque and the satirical play against passages that are almost documentary as the characters struggle to keep the hotel from being gentrified—and to keep the revolution alive in a time when just about everyone seems tired of politics.” Read Bookslut’s interview with the author here.

It has been a good year for small, independent publishers. Paul Harding’s Tinkers, published by Bellevue Literary Press, won the Pulitzer and Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists, until recently printed only by hand by Gaspereau Press, just won Canada’s Giller Prize. (Paperback rights to The Sentimentalists were sold recently to another publisher.) Both Lord of Misrule and I Hotel are also published by small presses — McPherson & Co. and Coffee House Press respectively. Here’s hoping the trend continues. Small presses deserve our respect, and our patronage, for publishing interesting and experimental stories that would not otherwise see the light of day.