Two Debut Novels Among National Book Award Contenders

The National Book Foundation (NBF) announced the National Book Award finalists today from Portland on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The finalists in poetry are:
Nikky Finney for Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press)
Yusef Komunyakaa for The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Carl Phillips for Double Shadow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Adrienne Rich for Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 20072010 (Norton)
Bruce Smith for Devotions (University of Chicago Press)

The finalists in fiction are:
Andrew Krivak for his debut novel, The Sojourn (Bellevue Literary Press)
Téa Obreht, who was honored by the NBF last year as a 5 Under 35 author, for her debut novel, The Tiger's Wife (Random House)
Julie Otsuka for her novel The Buddha in the Attic (Knopf)
Edith Pearlman for her story collection Binocular Vision (Lookout Books)
Jesmyn Ward for her novel Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury)

This year saw the first graphic book finalist, in the nonfiction category: Lauren Redniss's Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout (It Books). The nonfiction shortlist also includes biographies of Malcolm X and Karl and Jenny Marx, as well as Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve (Norton), a look at Lucretius's philosophical poem, "On the Nature of Things."

The National Book Award winners will be announced on November 16 in New York City.

In the video below, Finney reads and discusses the story behind a poem from Head Off & Split.

Poems, Stories, Entire Books Welcome in Winter Anthology Contest

The Winter Anthology, a "collection of contemporary literature informed by history and older art, twenty-first-century science and philosophy, and the ending of print culture," is accepting entries for its 2011 contest. All submissions will be considered for publication online and subsequently in Volume 2 of the anthology, alongside the poetry or prose of the winning writer, who will be awarded one thousand dollars.

This year's judge is poet Lisa Russ Spaar, a professor at University of Virginia whose poetry books include Glass Town (Red Hen Press, 1999), Blue Venus (Persea Books, 2004), Satin Cash (Persea Books, 2008), and the forthcoming Vanitas, Rough, which Persea will release next year. Spaar has also published essays in Shenandoah and Virginia Quarterly Review, and her poetry appeared in Volume 1 of the Winter Anthology, with poems by Lucie Brock-Broido, Jean Valentine, and Charles Wright and novel excerpts by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Magdalena Tulli.

Works of any genre are eligible for the contest. Each entry, which may range from two poems or a single essay or story to an entire book of up to fifty pages, must be accompanied by a ten dollar reading fee.

The address for print submissions and a link to the Winter Anthology's Submishmash entry page (which requires writers to submit an eleven dollar entry fee) are posted on the contest website. Entries must be submitted by November 15, and a winner will be announced in the winter.

Novel of Korean War, Memoir by Former Prisoner Win Literary Peace Prize

The sixth annual Dayton Literary Peace Prize, recognizing "the power of the written word to promote peace," was awarded yesterday to novelist Chang-Rae Lee and journalist-cum-memoirist Wilbert Rideau. Lee received the ten-thousand-dollar award for his fourth novel, The Surrendered (Riverhead Books), and Rideau won for his memoir, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (Knopf).

Lee's novel unfolds during the Korean War, examining the repercussions of violence in the decades that follow the event. "This is a big novel which steadily transcends any thematic constraints and steps into real art," says fiction judge Ron Carlson, adding, "the dimensions of the book insist on a gritty and complex understanding of our best impulses in the worst of times."

Nonfiction judge Eric Bates says of Rideau's book, completed after the author spent forty-four years incarcerated in Louisiana prisons, "For his reporting alone, Rideau has made a critical and lasting contribution to our understanding of a prison system that long ago gave up on the notion of rehabilitation. But his memoir goes far beyond the limitations of journalism. He brings to his story a deep devotion to the power of literature, drawing on traditions as diverse as Saint Augustine and Frederick Douglass to craft a dramatic and moving tale that is both deeply felt and richly observed."

The winners will be presented their awards at a ceremony on November 13 in Dayton, Ohio, the seat of the historic Dayton Peace Accords, initialed there in November 1995.

In the video below, Lee discusses his winning book with Leonard Lopate of New York City public radio station WNYC.

Rose Mary Salum's Cross-Cultural Whirl

Since 2007, P&W has supported literary events in Houston, Texas. Literal, Latin American Voices, an award-winning bilingual magazine, was among the first Houston organizations supported by P&W. We asked its founder and director, Rose Mary Salum, author of the short story collection Spaces in Between, to share her experience as a presenter of Latin American literature and art.

What was your most successful literary program?
One of the most successful programs we hosted this year was Poetics of Displacement: Latin American Émigré Writers and the Creative Imagination. When Gisela Heffes invited us to collaborate with Rice University on this series, we immediately agreed. The response was amazing, especially to Sergio Ramírez, who I introduced! People approached me to express their absolute satisfaction. 

What makes your programs unique?
We invite established authors from Latin America, who are perhaps not as well-known in the United States. Everyone is familiar with the boom authors—the García Marquezs and Vargas Llosas. Besides these magnificent authors, there is a vast array of writers who are innovative and at the vanguard of literature. We have always questioned the practice of promoting writers familiar to our audiences to minimize the risk of failure. Ultimately, the quality of work is what must win in the end. Having a magazine with these characteristics (bilingual with Latin American subject matter, but still international) puts us in the peculiar place of voicing a de-centered point of view that steers away from the dominant culture, and we want to keep going this way. The United States is becoming more and more aware of the vast repository of literature that exists “down there.”

How do you find and invite readers?
I carefully choose dates and venues to make it easy for people to visit. There’s a huge niche for Latin American writers and readers in the United States, but we are scattered. Houston is a gateway at the perfect geographical point of connection between a continent with two languages. The mission of Literal is to exploit this location and get these cultures closer to each other.

Has literary presenting informed your writing life?
Every time I research new authors and read their books, their work has such an impact on me that some of my guests become characters in my fiction.

What is the value of literary programs in your community?
We cannot ignore the globalized world where influences roam freely. A program about literature is all about exchanging ideas, perspectives, and culture. Having said that, the programs we organize are always centered on the idea of being a platform for dialog, even if we are not familiar with other cultures within our own borders. “There is a tendency to abstract and aestheticize the colossal displacement of peoples and their cultures generated by globalization,” explains Lorraina Pinnell. A publication like Literal has a special role in addressing, in concrete terms and forms, cross-cultural contacts whirling through Canada, the United States, and Latin America. For our part, we are dedicated to resisting this tendency to abstract an entire reality; the publication and, moreover, the events we organize present distinct regions of the Americas in their various and sometimes clashing embodiments.

Photo: P&W-supported writer Sergio Ramírez with Gisela Heffes of Rice University. Credit: Enrique Vazquez.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Houston 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.

National Book Awards Add Book App to Nominees

The National Book Awards, a literary institution for more than sixty years, broke through their traditional submission guidelines recently, accepting for the first time an exclusively electronic book as a nominee. According to National Book Foundation (NBF) executive director Harold Augenbraum, although the rules stipulate that eligible books must be printable on paper—and the app in question, designed for the iPad, contains features such as graphics and video—the foundation reviews its guidelines annually, and broadening them to include e-books may be a natural next step.

"I wonder whether the tablet reader will lend itself to a new phase in the type of literary abstraction," Augenbraum told book culture website inReads, noting that the nominated app "combines text, graphics, and video in a seamless story. That will have an effect on the way we read. There will be people who will only want to read text, or watch video, and then there will be combinations."

Among the other books nominated for this year's awards are 191 poetry collections, 311 novels, and 441 nonfiction books.

For more of Augenbraum's behind-the-scenes perspective on the National Book Awards, check out the full interview at inReads. And stay tuned this fall as the NBF whittles down its list of nominees; the finalists for the ten-thousand-dollar prizes will be announced on October 12.

SMITH Wants Your Boss, in Brief

Last month, we reported on SMITH magazine's six-word memoir contest Six Words About Work, which launched with the theme My Job (or, "Why I do what I do"). For the next eight days, the magazine is accepting entries on a new topic: bosses—and not just any bosses, but the best bosses ever.

Like inaugural contest winner Mindy Getch, whose My Job memoir, "Who doesn't love the payroll lady," rose above more than four thousand entries, the winner of the boss-themed contest will receive as a prize her choice of an iPad2 or a BlackBerry PlayBook. The prizes are cosponsored by the consulting firm Mercer.

Today's featured memoir comes from Elisa Shevitz: "The CEO knew every intern's name." Other entries, which appear on the SMITH website, include, "Peter Pan complex, together we regress," "Said, 'If he goes, I go,'" and "Verbal pugilist, he's still my dad."

On August 13 the contest will refresh with a new theme. Until then, boss-related entries can be published (with no fee) directly to the contest page.

Kingsolver Honored for Peace Work

The Dayton Literary Peace Prize committee announced today that its first Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award will be given to novelist and nonfiction writer Barbara Kingsolver. The ten-thousand-dollar prize, formerly known as the Lifetime Achievement Award but renamed to honor the late U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, celebrates an author for a body of work that promotes peace and understanding.

Kingsolver is the author of, most recently, The Lacuna (Harper, 2009), a novel examining the relationship between Mexico and the United States. Among her other works are the memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (HarperCollins, 2007), coauthored with her husband and daughter, and the novels The Poisonwood Bible (HarperFlamingo, 1998) and The Bean Trees (Harper and Row, 1988).

The author will receive her award on November 13 at a ceremony in Dayton, Ohio, the site of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. The finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, given annually for a book of fiction and a book of nonfiction, will be revealed later this month, and the winners will be honored alongside Kingsolver.

In the video below, Kingsolver discusses nationhood, news and gossip, and schadenfreude in The Lacuna, which won the 2010 Orange Prize.

Olga Garcia Remembers Bakersfield

Poet Olga Garcia, author of Falling Angels: Cuentos y Poemas and the chapbook Lovely Little Creatures, blogs about her experience facilitating a P&W-supported workshop at Southwest Bakersfield Library in Bakersfield, California.

When the California Center for the Book's David Gernand first connected me with Southwest Bakersfield Library to facilitate a memoir writing workshop, I had a sudden flashback.

When I was eight, my parents packed all five of us kids into an old, avocado-green station wagon and drove us to Bakersfield to pick onions. Once there, we toiled in the vicious heat, snapping enormous green scissors, filling coarse brown sacks with dusty white onions. One foreman came by every so often to halfheartedly shoo us kids off the field. Within minutes after he disappeared, we’d run back to our parents to help with the onion picking or the dragging of sacks that inevitably grew heavier with each added onion.

We were supposed to work the fields for several weeks that summer, but at night while we camped out and fought over the bare mattress laid out at the back of the station wagon, we beseeched our parents to take us home. The smell of onions permeated our clothes, skin, and hair. It burned our eyes and lingered on our tongues. After a few days, my father shook his head in defeat, saying we were the worst workers he had ever seen. As we drove out of Bakersfield, we waved goodbye to the onion fields from the rear window, promising never to return.

Thirty-three years later I’m in Bakersfield again, standing before a group of workshop participants at Southwest Library. It’s a small, ethnically diverse group of nine and their ages range from twelve to sixty. Some of them have aspirations of memoir writing; others have come simply to practice writing. I share my onion story as a means to discuss memoir writing (how place, sound, smell, and taste trigger snapshots of what we’ve lived). We do several exercises to probe into the personal stories archived in their bodies.

One exercise asks participants to write about a memorable place. Another asks them to use one of Sandra Cisneros’s vignettes as a springboard to write about their names. Both exercises produce intimate recollections, and it is through the sharing of these intimate recollections that we connect with one another.

Maria, the library branch supervisor, reveals a long-kept secret. “Well, you see,” she says “my name isn’t actually Maria.” The name was given to her by a group of Catholic nuns in the Philippines and it stuck. A great beginning to a memoir. Maritza, from Guadalajara, Mexico, was named after a character in a Brazilian soap opera. And Gene, the middle-aged man whose Mexican parents didn’t speak a word of English, was named after Gene Autry, the American performer known as the "Singing Cowboy." As Gene shares his story, his wife leans into him and mumbles, “I never knew that.”

Photo: Olga Garcia. Credit: Weenobee.com.

Major support for Readings/Workshops events in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Guardian Seeks Suggestions for Debut Book Prize

Earlier this month the Guardian revealed the one hundred thirty-six nominees for its annual First Book Award, posing the question, "what have we missed?" After inviting readers to suggest fiction and nonfiction titles not yet entered by publishers—who must pay an entry fee of one hundred fifty pounds (nearly two hundred fifty dollars) to submit each title—the newspaper collected more than a hundred responses, but the forum for discussion is still open.

On Monday the Guardian posted responses from a group of literary bloggers weighing in on the question. Asylum's John Self named Teju Cole's novel, Open City (Random House) as his missing title, and Bookslut's Jessa Crispin suggested Vanessa Veselka's novel, Zazen, and nonfiction title Who Is Anna Mendieta? by Christine Redfern and Caro Caron (Feminist Press), among others. Nic Bottomley of Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights and Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles both called out the novel Snowdrops by A. D. Miller (Atlantic Books).

Fictionbitch blogger Elizabeth Baines, looking for "books that don't fit the conception of the 'market' but, with the oxygen of a prize win, have the power to capture readers' imaginations and indeed change the terms of the market," selected as one of her titles James Franco's "brilliantly written" story collection Palo Alto, published by Faber in the United Kingdom and Scribner in the United States.

For the bloggers' full lists and to offer your own nominations, visit the Guardian's website. The long- and shortlists for the prize, worth ten thousand pounds (roughly sixteen thousand dollars), will be rolled out in the coming months, with a winner announced in the late fall.

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