Takedown

11.21.19

Earlier this month, art critic Jason Farago wrote a New York Times article advocating for the removal and relocation of the Mona Lisa painting from its place in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Farago argues that the overwhelming popularity and crowding make for untenable viewing conditions, and that the painting itself is perhaps not worth the trouble. Write a personal essay that explores a piece of art—a book, painting, song, film, or live performance—you’ve experienced that left you with a feeling of disappointment. Describe the encounter, and then use the experience as an opportunity to reflect on a comparable work of art that’s underappreciated and deserves more widespread acclaim. How does your emotional response to the artwork affect your preferences?

Choi, Broom Win 2019 National Book Awards

At a ceremony tonight in New York City, the winners of the seventieth annual National Book Awards were announced. Susan Choi won the award in fiction for her novel Trust Exercise (Henry Holt), and Sarah M. Broom won the award in nonfiction for her memoir, The Yellow House (Grove Atlantic). Arthur Sze won the award in poetry for Sight Lines (Copper Canyon Press), and Martin W. Sandler won the award in young people’s literature for 1919 The Year That Changed America (Bloomsbury). László Krasznahorkai and Ottilie Mulzet won the award in translated literature for Mulzet’s translation from the Hungarian of Krasznahorkai’s novel Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (New Directions).

The annual awards are given for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young people’s literature, and translated literature published during the previous year. The winners each receive $10,000.

Actor and longtime host of the PBS show Reading Rainbow LeVar Burton emceed the evening. He opened the ceremony by celebrating the importance of literature. “Literature is the birthright of every one of us—if you can read in at least one language, you are, in my definition, free,” he said. “No one can pull the wool over your eyes.”

Earlier in the evening, writer and indie bookstore owner Ann Patchett presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution the American Literary Community to Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “The creativity, ingenuity, and resilience of booksellers is nothing less than remarkable,” said Teicher. “I accept [this award] on behalf of the thousands of indie booksellers across this country who every day thousand and thousands of times perform that special act of magic of placing the right book in a reader’s hands.”

Director, actor, and writer John Waters presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Edmund White, saying, “He is beyond distinguished…but he’s disreputable too.” A fiction writer, biographer, and cultural critic, White has published several books, including In Hotel de Dream and States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. According to the National Book Foundation, White and his work “remain central to any consideration of gay male life in late twentieth-century America.”

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are some of the most prestigious literary prizes given in the United States. In 2018, the awards went to Justin Phillip Reed in poetry, Sigrid Nunez in fiction, Elizabeth Acevedo in young people’s literature, Jeffrey C. Stewart in nonfiction, and Yoko Tawada and Margaret Mitsutani in translated literature.

Photos (clockwise from top left): László Krasznahorkai, Ottilie Mulzet, Sarah M. Broom, Susan Choi, Martin W. Sandler, and Arthur Sze.

Nunez, Acevedo Win 2018 National Book Awards

The winners of the 2018 National Book Awards were announced at a ceremony tonight in New York City. Sigrid Nunez took home the award in fiction for her novel The Friend (Riverhead Books), and Elizabeth Acevedo won the prize in young people’s literature for her novel, The Poet X (HarperTeen). Justin Phillip Reed won the prize in poetry for his debut collection, Indecency (Coffee House Press), and Jeffrey C. Stewart won the prize in nonfiction for his biography of Alain Locke, The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press). This year the National Book Foundation also awarded a prize in translated literature to Yoko Tawada for her novel The Emissary (New Directions Publishing), translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani.

The annual awards are given for the best books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young people's literature, and translated literature published in the previous year. The winners each receive $10,000.

Emceed by actor Nick Offerman, the ceremony celebrated the importance of literature and books. “In our inexorable pursuit of freedom and human rights, books serve us as weapons and shields,” he said. “They are perhaps the greatest creation of human kind, one that is living and ever growing.”

Earlier in the evening, writer Luís Alberto Urrea presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Isabel Allende, who has published more than twenty books, most recently the novel In the Midst of Winter (Atria Books, 2017). Allende, who is the first Spanish-language author to receive the award, spoke about what the award meant to her as a Chilean writer living in America. “I have always been a foreigner… This award means maybe I’m not alien anymore,” she said. “Maybe I can plant roots. Maybe I’m not going anywhere.”

Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly presented the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution the American Literary Community to Doron Weber of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for his work on the intersection of literature and science.

Established in 1950, the National Book Awards are among the largest literary prizes given in the United States. The 2017 winners were Frank Bidart in poetry, Jesmyn Ward in fiction, Masha Gessen in nonfiction, and Robin Benway in young people’s literature.

Photos (clockwise from top left): Sigrid Nunez, Elizabeth Acevedo, Justin Phillip Reed, Jeffrey C. Stewart, Yoko Tawada.

Art Farm

Art Farm offers residencies of one week to five months from June 1 to November 1 to poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers on a working farm in Marquette, Nebraska, approximately 80 miles west of Lincoln. Residents are provided with a private room and work space. Families and collaborators are also welcome. Each resident is asked to contribute 12 hours of work on the farm per week.

Type: 
RESIDENCY
Ignore Event Date Field?: 
yes
Event Date: 
March 31, 2020
Rolling Admissions: 
ignore
Application Deadline: 
March 31, 2020
Financial Aid?: 
no
Financial Aid Application Deadline: 
March 31, 2020
Free Admission: 
yes
Contact Information: 

Art Farm, Writers Residency, 1306 West 21 Road, Marquette, NE 68854. 

Contact City: 
Marquette
Contact State: 
NE
Contact Zip / Postal Code: 
68854
Country: 
US

Sarah M. Broom

Caption: 

“If we truly love a place and are tethered to a place, then it’s our job to get to know that place.” In this Good Morning America interview, Sarah M. Broom speaks about her debut memoir, The Yellow House (Grove Press, 2019), which is a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction.

Kentucky Book Festival

The 2019 Kentucky Book Festival, presented by Kentucky Humanities, was held from November 10 to November 16 at various venues in Lexington. The Kentucky Book Fair, the convention-style event that is the festival’s cornerstone, was held on November 16 at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena. The festival featured panel discussions, readings, and book signings. Participating authors included poets Wendell Berry and Adrian Matejka, fiction writer Elliot Ackerman, and nonfiction writer Casey Cep. Most events were free and open to the public.

Type: 
FESTIVAL
Ignore Event Date Field?: 
yes
Event Date: 
March 31, 2020
Rolling Admissions: 
ignore
Application Deadline: 
March 31, 2020
Financial Aid?: 
no
Financial Aid Application Deadline: 
March 31, 2020
Free Admission: 
yes
Contact Information: 

Kentucky Book Festival, Kentucky Humanities, 206 East Maxwell Street, Lexington, KY 40508. (859) 257-4317. 
Sara Volpi, Director.

Sara Volpi
Director
Contact City: 
Lexington
Contact State: 
KY
Contact Zip / Postal Code: 
40508
Add Image: 

Just Mercy

Caption: 

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau, 2014) by Bryan Stevenson, a memoir recounting his experience as a young defense attorney fighting for a death row inmate wrongfully convicted of murder, has been adapted into a feature film. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the legal drama stars Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, and Rafe Spall.

Gratitude and Vengeance

11.14.19

“I had to write the book for two reasons. The first one was gratitude for all that kept me alive and made life worth living, and the second was vengeance against all that diminishes life,” writes Anne Boyer in an interview about her memoir, The Undying: Pain, Vulnerability, Mortality, Medicine, Art, Time, Dreams, Data, Exhaustion, Cancer, and Care (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), for the Poetry Foundation’s Harriet blog. Think of an urgent issue in your own life which has provoked in you both feelings of gratitude and vengeance. Write a personal essay that expresses both of these important emotional states. How do you give voice to these feelings in a complex and productive or healing way?

Indie Bookstores in the HOU

Hey mi gente! This week I want to draw your attention to some indie bookstores here in Houston, the HOU.

Indie bookstores are independently operated as a small business and I am proud to say we have many in town that help build the literary fabric of the city. These spaces are important and special because they help bring authors into town and invite locals to see and hear new voices. Indie bookstores inform and build community with every reader that enters their doors.

Here are a few shops in town that I often frequent:

Brazos Bookstore is a solid space to find anything current and fresh, and the go-to spot for readings from local and national writers. They do an amazing job at keeping up with a special section for books by local writers.

Casa Ramirez is located in the heart of the Heights, in the Northside. Although it’s not technically a bookstore, Casa Ramirez Folkart Gallery has always served as a cultural pillar providing a space for community and art. Casa Ramirez houses folk art, pieces by local artists, Dia de los Muertos events, Mexican artisan work, and a large selection of books written by Latinx writers, from children’s books to short story anthologies. They also host poetry readings, author talks, and storytelling events.

Kaboom Books is a used bookstore in Woodland Heights just above Downtown Houston. I love this space because, although it focuses on used books, they have a great outside patio to host readings featuring writers with new work. Many local literary organizations have used the space for book launches and the shop owners are always all about it.

Murder By the Book is a beautiful, small shop that focuses on thriller, suspense, and mystery genres. They regularly host author readings and Akashic Books’ Houston Noir celebrated its launch party there this past May.

To find indie bookstores in your area, check out the Literary Places and Reading Venues databases.

Saeed Jones reads for a recent event at Brazos Bookstore.
 
Lupe Mendez is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Houston. Contact him at Houston@pw.org or on Twitter, @houstonpworg.

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