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Archive May 2009

The BBC announced yesterday that nineteen titles have been named to the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, several of which readers would have no difficulty placing in the "creative nonfiction" category. Among these are Swiss author Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, an exploration of the modern workplace in all its forms.

Given the overwhelming response to our May 1 post, "Who Should Have Won? A Writer's Spectator Sport," (cricket...cricket) here's another chance to be the judge.

It's easy to get caught up in the details of who won which award and how big the cash prize was and when the winning book is going to be published. These are all important details, no doubt, but every once and a while a contest or a sponsoring organization comes along that offers a little perspective to the competition, reminding those of us who pay such close attention to the deadlines and the recent winners that the people who run the magazines and the small presses and the nonprofits that make the contests possible are often doing what they're doing for very personal reasons.

If your literary aspirations are a bit more, shall we say, glossy—your ideal number of readers in the six- or seven-digit range—you might want to check out these new writing contests.

In 2004, at the age of forty-seven, Barb Johnson decided to take time away from her carpentry business and pursue an MFA in fiction at the University of New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Katrina wiped out Johnson's business and forced her to live on the balcony of her apartment in the evacuated city. She kept writing, and by the time she graduated, in 2008, she had a book deal for a story collection, More of This World or Maybe Another, forthcoming from HarperCollins in November.

In what the Academy of American Poets calls an "unprecedented concurrence," the sole finalist for the 2008 Walt Whitman Award, J. Michael Martinez, was just named winner of the 2009 award. Judge Juan Felipe Herrera chose Martinez's collection, Heredities, from nearly a thousand anonymous entries.

Pulitzer Prize? Check. National Book Award? Check. Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships? Check, check. Picture hanging in the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery? Check. Appearance on Oprah? Check. Popular movie adaptation? Check, with at least two more in the works. And now Cormac McCarthy can add the PEN/Saul Bellow Award to the list.

The Poetry Society of America on Friday announced the complete list of winners of the 99th annual PSA Awards—a baker's dozen of prizes ranging from the $250 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Poetry Award, given to a student in grades nine through twelve, to the prestigious Frost Medal, given for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry. Sixteen-year-old Grace Dunham won the former; seventy-nine-year-old X. J. Kennedy received the latter. 

Last month, Dave Davies, senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, interviewed author Bruce Weber about the finer points of being a baseball umpire for NPR's Fresh Air. Weber, a New York Times reporter, trained to be a professional umpire for three years in order to write As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires (Scribner, 2009). One of the interesting things they discussed is what happens when an umpire is confronted by an angry player or coach who doesn't agree with a call. The bottom line: Any amount of complaining isn't going to make the ump change his mind.

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