National Book Awards: 2011 Finalists
If you follow any literary people on Twitter, you were probably engulfed by #NBA11 tweets this morning. No, it’s not basketball season yet—it’s literary award season!
The National Book Awards, established in 1950, annually award American writers for the best fiction, nonfiction, young people’s literature, and poetry books of the year. Each finalist (5 in each category) receive $1,000 and a medal. The winner receives $10,000 and a fancy bronze sculpture. But, at the end of the day, I think the best part is this:
That shimmery gold medal on a cover certainly tempts bookstore browsers. Analyzing the book buying habits of readers is a bit beyond my abilities, but the visible approval of the Awards judging panels—right there on the cover!—must be a factor.
Some Past Winners
You may have heard of them:
Wallace Stevens, The Auroras of Autumn, Poetry 1951
Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night, Arts and Letters (Nonfiction) 1969
Elizabeth Bishop, The Collected Poems, Poetry 1970
Flannery O’Connor, The Complete Stories, Fiction 1972
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, Fiction 1974
John Ashbery, Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror, Poetry 1976
Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Science 1980
John Updike, Rabbit is Rich, Fiction 1982
Maurice Sendak, Outside Over There, Children’s Picture Books 1982
Don DeLillo, White Noise, Fiction 1985
Annie Proulx, The Shipping News, Fiction 1993
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections, Fiction 2001
The 2011 Finalists
Visit the National Book Award Foundation’s website for a complete list of the finalists. Here’s an overview and my thoughts on the announcement:
- 12 / 20 finalists are women. This is incredible in a world where, in 2010, The New York Review of Books reviewed only 59 books by women… and 306 by men. Good work, judges.
- Small presses are also beautifully represented by this year’s finalists. Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, a fiction finalist, was published by Lookout Books: a brand new literary imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington.
- A finalist in the nonfiction category, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss, is a visual biography (think graphic novel but more so). What a great example of how genres can overlap or, as one of my college English professors often said, “why genre doesn’t matter.”
- And the three books there I’m placing money on (please don’t hold me to that) are:
1. The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt for Nonfiction. I have not read it yet but loved his earlier book, Will in the World, which was a 2004 finalist but lost to Kevin Boyle’s Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age. I hope it’s Greenblatt’s year.
2. Double Shadow by Carl Phillips for Poetry. A fantastic and funny poet who has yet to win a National Book Award, though he has been a finalist three times. He’s also a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. He deserves this.
3. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward for Fiction. Though some of the other finalists have garnered more buzz (ahemteaobrehtcough), I think Ward’s second novel is well-placed for a win. It’s her second novel, picked up by a significantly larger house (Bloomsbury USA) than her first (Agate Bolden). She has also published a fair amount of shorter fiction and was interviewed on The Paris Review blog in late August—all good signs.