D.A. Powell, Ben Fountain Win National Book Critics Circle Awards

Last night, during a ceremony at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2012. 

D. A. Powell won in poetry for Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf); Ben Fountain won in fiction for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco); and Andrew Solomon won in nonfiction for Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner).

Leanne Shapton won the autobiography award for Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press); Robert A. Caro won the biography award with The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf); and Marina Warner won the criticism award for Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Belknap Press). 

The winners were chosen by a panel of established literary critics from a list of thirty finalists announced this past January. The shortlist in poetry included David Ferry for Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press); Lucia Perillo for On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (Copper Canyon Press); Allan Peterson for Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Books); and A. E. Stallings for Olives (Triquarterly). The finalists in fiction were Laurent Binet for HHhH, translated by Sam Taylor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House); Lydia Millet for Magnificence (W. W. Norton); and Zadie Smith for NW (The Penguin Press). 

The annual National Book Critics Circle awards are given for books published in the previous year. For more information about the awards, visit the NBCC website.

In the video below, watch the finalists read from their work at last night’s ceremony.   

National Book Critics Circle Finalists Announced

The finalists for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced today. Of the thirty finalists, one winner in each of the six categories will be selected this February to receive the prestigious literary prize. 

The finalists in poetry are David Ferry for Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press), Lucia Perillo for On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (Copper Canyon Press), Allan Peterson for Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Books), D. A. Powell for Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf Press), and A. E. Stallings for Olives (Triquarterly).

The finalists in fiction are Laurent Binet for HHhH, translated by Sam Taylor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Ben Fountain for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House), Lydia Millet for Magnificence (W. W. Norton), and Zadie Smith for NW (Penguin Press).

The finalists in autobiography are Reyna Grande for The Distance Between Us (Atria Books), Maureen N. McLane for My Poets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the late Anthony Shadid for House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Leanne Shapton for Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press), and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o for In the House of the Interpreter (Pantheon).

For a complete list of finalists, including those in the additional categories of general nonfiction, biography, and criticism, and for profiles of each author, visit the National Book Critics Circle Tumblr page or the official blog of the NBCC, Critical Mass.

The National Book Critics Circle Awards—the only national prizes selected by a panel of established literary critics—have been given annually since 1976 for books published in the United States in the previous year. The NBCC also honors one of its member critics with the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and awards the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award for a distinguished author, editor, publisher, or literary institution, each year.

The winners of the 2012 awards will be announced on Thursday, February 28 at a ceremony at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City. A finalists reading will be held on February 27. 

The Larger Truth

2.27.13

One of the challenges of writing memoir is balancing truth and one’s subjective experience of the past. Write an essay about something that happened in your past that involved family or friends who you trust. Send your essay to one or more of these people, and ask them to read it and to point out any differences between how you presented the event and how they remember it. Use their input to revise the essay.

Cybele Knowles Spies on Homage Tattoos at the UA Poetry Center

Cybele Knowles works as a program coordinator at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she coordinates the PW-funded Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, Classes & Workshops program, and Closer Look Book Club. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and an MA in English from U.C. Berkeley. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the DestroyerSpiral OrbDiagramPindeldyboz, the Asian Pacific American JournalFaucheuse, and the Prose Poem.

In my final post, I’ll share some homage tattoos spied in and around the University of Arizona Poetry Center. These tattoos reference poets, writers, artists, and artworks that have a special significance to the wearer.

My interest in such tattoos originated when poet Philip Jenks came to Tucson in 2010 to appear in our Reading and Lecture Series, a program supported by the Poets & Writers Readings/Workshops program. I knew about Philip’s fabulous tattoo of Emily Dickinson, and asked him if I could take a picture of it. He was gracious enough to allow me to capture his Emily in all her glory.

Philip Jenks

This is a powerful Emily Dickinson, with large hands and a tribal halo. Philip also chose to depict Emily as she might have looked in her later years (the only known photos of Emily are from when she was very young). As you can imagine, encountering Philip and his Emily sparked in me an interest in other tattoos that reference loved writers, artists, and artworks. It turns out that such tattoos are everywhere at the Poetry Center, on the bodies of our visitors, volunteers, colleagues, friends, and patrons. Here are just a few homage tattoos I’ve discovered at the Poetry Center. With each image is a statement from the wearer about the origin, history, or personal significance of the tattoo.

Zachary Schomburg: Poet, Editor, and Poetry Center Visiting Poet (October 2012).

Zachary Schomburg

“Much of the history of this Aram Saroyan poem was spent at the center of political controversy over the value of public funding for the arts, but now it represents more of a marker of that successful resistance. This tattoo then embodies not only my commitment to poetry, this unbound experiment of language that the poem itself embodies, but also its defense. Plus, it is an entire poem I can fit on my wrist. I’m sure I’m one of many with this poem on my body, but I wear it also in unison with two of my good friends, Mathias Svalina and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. We share a Frank Stanford line too. I’m developing this compulsion of wanting to be completely covered with language and images. Tattoos and pens. I like writing on myself. When I write on myself with a pen, it quickly disappears. Without this particular photo, I wouldn’t have ever remembered writing that scribble on my hand. I think it says, ‘Maybe everybody is trying to kill me and failing.’ I don’t know if I ever called TS. Who is TS? Some owls? My fingernails are dirty.”

Kate Bernheimer: Writer, Editor, and Poetry Center Colleague/Teacher/Friend.

Kate Bernheimer

“I used to live in Portland, Oregon, and every winter I would come spend around a month in the Tucson Mountains, out near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, at my friend Lydia Millet’s place. I had to get out of the rain and I revere the high desert. Lydia had renovated what was basically a trailer into a compound of sorts and had space for a guest among the many creatures and incredible botany there. We would work from sunrise to sunset—we would write for more than eight hours, it was serious bliss—and then we would have drinks in her kitchen with the lights out and watch javelinas feast on a quail block. As we wrote, I could hear Lydia chortling at her computer at the other end of the house. Her laughter carried me through the end of my first two novels. In 2000, the year she wrote My Happy Life (and chortled through it, which is hilarious because it’s a terribly heartbreaking book), I completed The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold. The day I finished the novel, we drove over Gate’s Pass into downtown Tucson and I got my tattoo on Fourth Avenue after having a vodka and soda at Plush, though I’m not sure if it was called Plush at the time. I think so. I had just the one drink, I wasn’t drunk. I had planned on getting a tattoo of the word ‘Mom’ written inside a winged heart, to match Lydia’s, but at the last minute I decided on the angel with chicken feet. The tattoo is a version of an illustration by Alexander Alexeieff that appears on the title page of Russian Fairy Tales, collected by Aleksandr Afanasev and translated by Norbert Guterman. She also appears in The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold—a description of her, not a picture. Portions of the novel are based on the tales in that book, and I had the book with me when we left Lydia’s spread in the desert and went into town. I pretty much took it everywhere I went, at the time, along with a collection of Brothers Grimm tales. Both have now completely fallen apart.”

TC Tolbert: Poet, Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, and Poetry Center Friend.

TC Tolbert

“I got this tattoo of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain just as I was beginning my gender transition from female to something less visibly female (also often called male but, unlike many trans folks, I don’t identify as male, I identify as trans—anyway). At the time I was in grad school for poetry, reading Poems for the Millennium, and it was Mallarmé, then Dada, that gave me a poetic lens for my body. And, in turn, my (trans and genderqueer) body gave me a physical/spatial lens for my poetic work. It is not an exaggeration to say that I transitioned partly because the avant-gardes (plural, as Richard Kostelanetz points out) gave me permission to interrupt the narrative, the confidence to experiment with form. Trans and queer coming-out stories are important to me, but even more encouraging, and less prescriptive, has been the work of Gertrude Stein, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marcel Duchamp, Trisha Brown, Shen Wei, and C.D. Wright. Fountain embodies Cage’s dictum: It’s lighter than you think. I needed that. I still do. To remember that my body (my bodies) is (are) a readymade—that I actually have very little idea of the different things it is, it can become, it can do. It’s also fascinating to see how different people read the piece. Among the many guesses: an athletic cup (jock strap), a regular old urinal, a hunk of roast beef, a steak. Judith Butler says that one ‘exists’ not only by virtue of being recognized, but, in a prior sense, by being recognizable. So too for the trans body, the experimental poem.”

Cameron Louie: Poet and Poetry Center Advisory Board Member.

Cameron Louie

Ad astra per alas porci: ‘to the stars on the wings of a pig.’ The Pigasus is, in a sense, John Steinbeck’s truest signature. It symbolized him, and I think it symbolizes all of us who try at writing, as ‘lumbering souls but trying to fly.’ It is an impossible thing, and imaginary. Most importantly, while riding the Pigasus, one gains the gift of poesy...”

Adam Kullberg: Nonfiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Adam Kullberg

“I didn’t read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, on which this tattoo was based, until I was in my early 20s. But when I did I found myself fascinated with his use of the Martian landscape—a place I viewed as foreign, lifeless—to convey the beauty, as well as the ugliness, of the world in which I lived. I meant for this tattoo, through its watercolor style and surreal landscape, to convey one of the strengths I find in all of Bradbury’s short stories and novels: that he speaks to both the artist and the child, the ordinary and the fantastic, the real and the magical, that are tethered to each of us.”

Mike Powell: Fiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Mike Powell

“This tattoo is of a muted post horn, the symbol of an underground mail-delivery service in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. I got it when I was 19 or 20 in a strip mall next to a sushi restaurant near the edge of Charlottesville, Virginia. I imagine that some people get tattoos of images they think are singular or uniquely expressive. Part of the reason for getting this tattoo is precisely that I knew other people who already had it: friends of friends of friends, cousins of friends of friends, strangers I’d met at parties. It wasn’t a mark of separation, but of connection. Plus, while I’m not particularly attached to physical mail or mail delivery, I liked the idea that the symbol belonged to an underground mail-delivery service, which seemed like an elegant metaphor for both the romantic appeal of subculture but also the superfluity of it. (The USPS has always served me just fine.) Twice or so a year, I meet people with the same tattoo. I’d be lying if I said it brought me closer to them, necessarily. Not all groups are predicated on spiritual kinship. For these people I reserve a quiet smile, and take heart in the idea that we know something, however irrelevant, that other people don’t. (My other tattoo is of the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger.)”

Laura Miller: Fiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Laura Miller

“When I was feeling as if I’d never be a legitimate writer, a Steinbeck or a Chekhov, science fiction showed me the writer’s imagination cracked open on the page and gave me a way forward. This tattoo is from the first science fiction film, Le Voyage dans la Lune, and I love the harshness of the film: the un-romanticized depiction of space, the moon-image characterizing man’s capacity for destruction. I worked closely with the tattoo artist to retain that gruesome quality. The moon paradox, a symbol of darkness, of mother, of spiritual guidance, is something I think about a great deal in my fiction. Moons have—since childhood—haunted me.”


Thanks to Philip, Zach, Kate, TC, Cameron, Adam, Mike, and Laura for sharing their homage tattoos, some of their favorite authors and artists, and their stories with me!

Photo Credit: Cybele Knowles.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

L.A. Times Book Prize Finalists Announced

The finalists for the thirty-third annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, given in ten categories for books published in 2012, were announced today. 

The finalists in poetry are Louise Glück for Poems: 1962-2012 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Rowan Ricardo Phillips for The Ground: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), D. A. Powell for Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys: Poems (Graywolf Press) Bin Ramke for Aerial (Omnidawn), and Cole Swensen for Gravesend (University of California Press).

The finalists in fiction are Jami Attenberg for The Middlesteins: A Novel (Grand Central Publishing), Michael Chabon for Telegraph Avenue (Harper), Ben Fountain for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), Lauren Groff for Arcadia (Voice/Hyperion), and Lydia Millet for Magnificence (Norton).

The finalists for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction are David Abrams for Fobbit (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic,Inc.), Kevin P. Keating for The Natural Order of Things (Aqueous Books), Lydia Netzer for Shine Shine Shine (St. Martin's Press), Maggie Shipstead for Seating Arrangements (Knopf), and Robin Sloan for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

For embracing new electronic forms of narrative, novelist Margaret Atwood will receive the Times Innovator's Award. Atwood’s recent projects include writing a serialized e-book for Byliner and posting her work on the collaborative writing website Wattpad. A new award series hosted by Wattpad, the Attys, whose inaugural winners were recently announced, were named in Atwood’s honor.

The winners of the 2012 book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony on April 19 at the University of Southern California. The ceremony is open to the public; tickets will be available in late March. For more information on the event, and for a list of finalists in the additional award categories of biography, current interest, graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, science and technology, and young adult literature, visit the L.A. Times Book Prizes website

What’s Your Obsession?

2.21.13

Read through your past writings—drafts of essays, journal entries, letters, stories—looking for themes or images that are repeated. Choose one of these and write an essay about it, exploring as much of it as you can. Incorporate your personal connection to it, as well as outside sources, such as definitions in the dictionary, historical information, and/or cultural and literary references. The idea is to dive deeply into this theme or image to discover the root of your obsession with it. 

Crossing Nations, Cultures, and Languages with Marick Press Founder Mariela Griffor

Since 2008, P&W has supported readings and workshops presented by literary publisher Marick Press. Its founder, Mariela Griffor, answered our questions about her experience publishing writers from around the world out of Grosse Pointe, MI, a small city neighboring Detroit. Griffor was born in the city of Concepción in southern Chile. She is the author of Exiliana (Luna Publications, 2007) and House (Mayapple Press, 2007). Her work has also appeared in Passages North, Cerise Press, and Washington Square Review. Her forthcoming translations include Canto General by Pablo Neruda (Tupelo Press, 2013), At Half Mast by Carmen Berenguer, Militant Poems by Raúl Zurita, Desolation by Gabriela Mistral and Bye, have a good time! by Kristina Lugn. She is Honorary Consul of Chile in Michigan.

Mariela GrifforWhat makes Marick Press unique?
Marick Press strives, across boundaries of nations, cultures, and languages, to create fine literature and make it a personal experience. We seek out and publish the best new work from an eclectic range of aesthetics—work that is technically accomplished, distinctive in style, and thematically fresh.

What project have you been especially proud of?
I’m proud of every single book I've published, but the translation series is something very, very special. This series includes some of the most accomplished and original writers in the world, translated into English.

I have always been able to find a special or unique book of poetry that has been overlooked in its original language or is essential to understanding the complete work of a poet. Particular cases of this are INRI by the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, and From Threshold to Threshold by Paul Celan.

What’s the most memorable event you’ve hosted?
P&W sponsored a festival of poetry held in Marick’s home town of Grosse Pointe, MI. The writers, publishers, and public shared some of the most remarkable readings I’ve experienced. It was the first time a poetry festival had been held in our community. For many in attendance, it was their first personal experience of fine literature—and it was new, fresh, and exciting!

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
A community with a literary program is an intellectually vibrant and relevant community not only for itself, but for its surrounding communities. I admire the work of Ann Arbor District Libraries here and in Ann Arbor. Individuals and community groups in my area use a lot of its resources.

I could not live in a place that is not interested in literature. Once a community experiences literature personally, it will go to any lengths—establishing writing programs, festivals, and public readings—to perpetuate and expand the personal experience of writing to everyone. If you counted how many writers of note have been attracted to, or were raised or born in Michigan, you would be stunned!

How has publishing and presenting informed your own writing and life?
If you are a publisher, you learn to be humble. You struggle, you struggle more, and then you get some satisfaction when the book is out. The creation of a book is not an easy task. It is a work of art, but also a responsibility. Very few can handle the weight of this work. You listen, take notes, produce, and through it all get to know people as they are.

The writing community in the United States is very assured, very eclectic, and much more resistant to foreign influence than those in other countries. Being a publisher and the host of a reading series has taught me the blessings of comparative literature among living writers.

Photo: Mariela Griffor. Credit: Javiera Denney.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Time and Place

In Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction authors Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd describe how in "The White Album," an autobiographical essay by Joan Didion about the 1960s, Didion "uses her own responses to the times as a means of trying to capture a broad truth about events." Choose a period in your life, and write an essay about loosely related events you experienced that together offer insight into a certain time or place.

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