Booker Finalist Declines Nomination

The finalists for the Man Booker International Prize have been announced, but if one nominee's wishes were honored, the shortlist would have to be clipped further. Best-selling author John le Carré has refused his nomination for the prize honoring achievement in fiction, saying simply that, while flattered by the recognition, he does not compete for literary awards.

Despite le Carré's request to be removed from the list of contenders, he could still be given the honor, which is offered at the discretion of a judging panel. "Le Carré's name will, of course, remain on the list," says chair of the judges Rick Gekoski. "We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work."

Unlike its sister award, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, the International Prize does not accept outside nominations. The finalists and winner of the sixty-thousand-pound prize (approximately ninety-six thousand dollars) are determined by a closed judging process.

In addition to le Carré, the finalists for the seventh annual award are Wang Anyi and Su Tong of China; Juan Goytisolo of Spain; James Kelman and Philip Pullman of the United Kingdom; Amin Maalouf of Lebanon; David Malouf of Australia; Dacia Maraini of Italy; Rohinton Mistry of India and Canada; and U.S. authors Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, and Anne Tyler. The winner will be announced on May 18 at the Sydney Writers' Festival in Australia.

In the video below, the Daily Beast's Tina Brown speaks with Roth about the future of the novel as a literary form.

Charles Simic and Dinaw Mengestu Win Prize for Foreign-Born Writers

The Vilcek Foundation has selected poet Charles Simic and fiction writer Dinaw Mengestu as recipients of the sixth annual Vilcek Prizes honoring foreign-born writers, artists, and scientists now living in the United States. Former U.S. poet laureate and recent Robert Frost Medal–winner Simic, born in the former Yugoslavia, received the one-hundred-thousand-dollar prize for lifetime achievement, and Mengestu, born in Ethiopia, won the twenty-five-thousand-dollar prize for creative promise.

Author of twenty poetry collections, Simic's most recent work is Master of Disguises (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Mengestu is the author of the novels How to Read the Air (Riverhead Books, 2010) and the widely praised The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears (Riverhead Books, 2007), which won the Guardian First Book Award.

The finalists for the prize for emerging writers, each receiving five thousand dollars, are poet Ilya Kaminsky (born in the former Soviet Union) and fiction writers Simon Van Booy (born in England), Téa Obreht (born in Croatia), and Vu Tran (born in Vietnam).

The literature honorees will participate in a panel, The New Vernacular: Immigrant Authors in American Literature, at New York City's Housing Works Bookstore Café on April 5. The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are appreciated.

In the video below, Mengestu discusses his latest novel.

March 24

3.24.11

In the third person, write a scene using three different modes of narrative distance. First, using an objective point of view, describe a woman boarding a bus. Use only actions, expressions, and dialogue; make no judgments about the scene or about her interior life. Then, using the omniscient point of view, describe the woman striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to her. You can still describe what you see on the "outside," but now, reveal something "inside" that only a privileged narrator would know. (Is she late for work? Is she worried about something? Is she bored by the conversation?) Finally, shift into stream of consciousness as the woman gets off the bus. Continue to access the woman's thoughts, feelings, and memories, but use the language of the character herself, revealing "the process as well as the content of the mind," as Janet Burroway says. This wide range of voices may be extreme, but it allows for a full portrait of a character's inner and outer life—and reminds us that no point of view is static.
This week's fiction prompt comes from fiction writer Eleanor Henderson, whose first novel, Ten Thousand Saints, will be published by Ecco in June.

Man Asian Literary Award Goes to Chinese Writer

For the third time in the prize's short history, the Man Asian Literary Prize has been given to an author from China. On Thursday Bi Feiyu received the thirty-thousand-dollar honor for his novel Three Sisters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), set during China's Cultural Revolution of the late sixties. The book's translators, Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin, each received five thousand dollars.

"Picking a winner from the selection of novels as rich and varied as those before us has made for an embarrassment of riches," said judge and literary critic Homi K. Bhahba during a speech at the award ceremony in Hong Kong. "For the house of fiction, as the novelist Henry James once called it, is a wondrous thing. Each window looks out on a different view. Each room provides an alternative way of living. Each door opens onto another country."

The Man Asian Literary Prize, which had for the past three years been given for a book of fiction not yet published in English and written by a citizen of one of twenty-seven Asian countries or territories, is now given for a volume already published in English. Past winners are Miguel Syjuco (Ilustrado) of the Philippines and Su Tong (The Boat to Redemption) and Jiang Rong (Wolf Totem), both of China.

Eisenberg Wins PEN/Faulkner for Stories, Plus Twenty Top Women Novelists

The PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which offers a prize of fifteen thousand dollars, was announced yesterday. MacArthur "Genius" Fellow Deborah Eisenberg received the honor, for which she will be feted at a ceremony in May, for The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg (Picador). The four other finalists, including recent National Book Critics Circle Award winner Jennifer Egan, will receive five thousand dollars each.

In other fiction news, the longlist for the Orange Prize, given for a novel by a woman writer published in the United Kingdom during the previous year, was announced today. Among this year's standout authors are nine debut novelists, including much-celebrated Téa Obrecht for The Tiger's Wife (Random House) and Karen Russell—whobroke out onto the literary scene in 2006 with the story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (Knopf)—for Swamplandia! (Knopf). Samantha Hunt, whose The Seas appeared in the United Kingdom six years after it debuted in the United States, is also a contender for the thirty-thousand-pound prize (approximately forty-eight thousand dollars).

The finalists, with their U.K. publishers noted, are:
Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate)
Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador)
The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury)
Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty (Faber and Faber)
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Corsair)
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
The London Train by Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape)
Grace Williams Says it Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre)
The Seas by Samantha Hunt (Corsair)
The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna (Faber and Faber)
Great House by Nicole Krauss (Viking)
The Road to Wanting by Wendy Law-Yone (Chatto & Windus)
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (Viking)
Repeat it Today with Tears by Anne Peile (Serpent's Tail)
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Chatto & Windus)
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin (Serpent's Tail)
The Swimmer by Roma Tearne (Harper Press)
Annabel by Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape)

"There is a scope to this list," says one judge, Susanna Reid. "If anyone has a preconception about what a woman writes about, or what a woman's novel is, I think that this will blow it away. These novels cross continents, cross generations, cross decades, and there is no subject that these writers are not willing to tackle."

The Orange Prize winner will be announced on June 8.

Lammy Longlist Culled From Record-Breaking Entry Pool

Yesterday the Lambda Literary Foundation announced the finalists for its twenty-third annual "Lammy" literary awards. Books are considered on the basis of their being authored by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender writers or depicting LGBT characters. 

Below are the contenders for prizes in poetry, fiction, and debut fiction, selected from a record pool of entries: 520 titles submitted by 230 publishers. The full lists of finalists in the additional Lammy categories, including biography, anthology, and erotica, are available on the Lambda Literary Foundation Web site.

Gay Poetry
darkacre by Greg Hewett (Coffee House Press)
then, we were still living by Michael Klein (GenPop Books)
Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems by James Schuyler (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Pleasure by Brian Teare (Ahsahta Press)
The Salt Ecstasies: Poems by James L. White (Graywolf Press)

Lesbian Poetry
Money for Sunsets by Elizabeth J. Colen (Steel Toe Books)
The Inquisition Yours by Jen Currin (Coach House Books)
The Sensual World Re-emerges by Eleanor Lerman (Sarabande Books)
White Shirt by Laurie MacFayden (Frontenac House)
T
he Nights Also by Anna Swanson (Tightrope Books)

Gay Debut Fiction
XOXO Hayden by Chris Corkum (P. D. Publishing)
Probation by Tom Mendicino (Kensington Publishing)
Bob the Book by David Pratt (Chelsea Station Editions)
The Palisades by Tom Schabarum (Cascadia Publishing)
Passes Through
by Rob Stephenson (University of Alabama Press)

Lesbian Debut Fiction
Alcestis
by Katharine Beutner (Soho Press)
Sub Rosa by Amber Dawn (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Fall Asleep Forgetting by Georgeann Packard (The Permanent Press)
The More I Owe You by Michael Sledge (Counterpoint Press)
One More Stop by Lois Walden (Arcadia Books)

Bisexual Fiction
Fall Asleep Forgetting by Georgeann Packard (The Permanent Press)
If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous (Harper Perennial)
Krakow Melt by Daniel Allen Cox (Arsenal Pulp Press)
The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet by Myrlin A. Hermes (Harper Perennial)
Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Their Forbidden Lovers by Ann Herendeen (Harper Paperbacks)

Gay Fiction
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Children of the Sun by Max Schaefer (Soft Skull)
Consolation by Jonathan Strong (Pressed Wafer)
The Silver Hearted by David McConnell (Alyson Books)
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett (Doubleday)

Lesbian Fiction
Big Bang Symphony by Lucy Jane Bledsoe (University of Wisconsin Press)
Fifth Born II: The Hundredth Turtle by Zelda Lockhart (LaVenson Press)
Holding Still for as Long as Possible by Zoe Whittall (House of Anansi), also a finalist in the transgender fiction category
Homeschooling by Carol Guess (PS Publishing)
Inferno by Eileen Myles (OR Books)

The winners will be honored at a gala held at the School of Visual Arts in New York City on May 26.

In the video below, Lesbian Fiction finalist Eileen Myles discusses her nominated book.

March 17

3.17.11

Find a story you admire, one with a tight, linear structure. Stories by Flannery O'Connor or Tobias Wolff would be good choices. Read the story slowly and thoroughly five times, so that you are emotionally detached from the narrative, so that you are able to recognize every sentence as a moving part that contributes to the overall design. Then read it again, for a sixth time, with a notebook next to you. Chart the architecture of the story. Indicate a new paragraph with a dotted line running across the page. Separate every instance of white space with a bold line. Track each paragraph, noting every relevant element. Example: Opens with a description of setting that clues us in to the mood of despair. Character A introduced with a line of dialogue that reveals his selfishness. And so on. When you finish, write your own story that bears no resemblance to the original except in its design. Paste new flesh on an old skeleton. For canonical examples of this, compare "Mexico" by Rick Bass to "The Prophet From Jupiter" by Tony Early or "The Lady With the Pet Dog" by Anton Chekhov to "The Man With the Lapdog" by Beth Lordan.
This week's fiction prompt comes from fiction writer Benjamin Percy, whose most recent novel, The Wilding, was published in September 2010.

Wright, Egan, Strauss Take NBCC Awards

Last night the National Book Critics Circle celebrated its favorite books of 2010, announcing National Book Critics Circle Award winners in poetry, fiction, and autobiography. C. D. Wright took home the prize in poetry for One With Others (Copper Canyon), a work of verse journalism investigating the Civil Rights movement in the poet's native Arkansas.

"She’s developed a new form, if not a new genre," says NBCC board member Craig Morgan Teicher in a review of Wright's book, "that allows for a new blending of fact and feeling, one which could help us tell our stories going forward, if only we’ll let it school us."

In fiction, Jennifer Egan won in fiction for A Visit From the Goon Squad (Knopf). Board member Collette Bancroft says of Egan's time-leaping novel-in-stories, "A Visit From the Goon Squad wraps big themes—art and its relationship with technology, the fluid nature of the self, love and its loss—in stories with a satiric edge, believable but never predictable characters, and a range of styles masterfully rendered."

In autobiography, Darin Strauss won for Half a Life (McSweeney's Books), a memoir of the author's life after a devastating accident involving one of his high school classmates. "What might have been exploitative instead feels important, and dearly won," says board member Karen Long.

In the video below, filmed last week, Wright reads from her winning volume at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

NBCC's Critics' Picks of 2010

While the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Awards shortlists, announced last weekend, have echoes of last fall's National Book Awards, the nominees in fiction were a completely fresh batch. Receiving nods for this year's prize in fiction are A Visit From the Goon Squad (Knopf) by Jennifer Egan, Freedom (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Jonathan Franzen, To the End of the Land (Knopf) by David Grossman, Comedy in a Minor Key (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Hans Keilson, and Skippy Dies (Faber and Faber) by Paul Murray.

National Book Award winners Terrance Hayes (Lighthead, Penguin) and Patti Smith (Just Kids, Ecco) are up for the prizes in poetry and autobiography, respectively. Also called out are National Book Award–nominated poets Kathleen Graber for The Eternal City (Princeton University Press) and C. D. Wright for One With Others (Copper Canyon), as well as Anne Carson for Nox (New Directions) and U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan for The Best of It (Grove Press).

In the memoir category, Smith’s book is up against Half a Life (McSweeney's Books) by Darin Strauss, Crossing Mandelbaum Gate (Scribner) by Kai Bird, Autobiography of an Execution (Hachette) by David Dow, Hitch-22 (Twelve) by Christopher Hitchens, and Hiroshima in the Morning (Feminist Press) by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto.

The judging committees of the NBCC will have their say this spring, but while awaiting word of the winners on March 10, here’s a look at what some critics thought of this year's notable titles before they were finalists.

"Nox is a luminous, big, shivering, discandied, unrepentant, barking web of an elegy." Meghan O’Rourke on Carson’s poetry collection, New Yorker

"If you only read one book of poetry this year, that’s not enough, but start with this one.” Craig Morgan Teicher on Graber’s The Eternal City, Publishers Weekly

"Talking to the reader as if she were sitting next to him on a bar stool, Hayes makes poems that flatter our subtlety and make unfussy the business of turning on the imagination's light." John Freeman on Lighthead, Dallas Morning News

"Turning each corner of a Ryan poem, the eye drops to the next solid, well-planked surface." John Freeman on The Best of It, Los Angeles Times

"One With Others is potent because it is alive with voices, alive with suffering, alive with a language which earmarks an era, but also a message which seeks to persist. It is also alive with an ideology of hatred that still courses through the United States today.” Steven Karl on Wright’s poetry collection, Coldfront

"For a book so relentlessly savvy about the digital age and its effect on how we experience time (speeded up, herky-jerky, instantaneous, but also full of unbearable gaps and pauses), A Visit From the Goon Squad is remarkably old-fashioned in its obsession with time’s effects on characters, that preoccupation of those doorstop nineteenth-century novels." Will Blythe on Egan’s novel, New York Times Book Review

"Some of Freedom’s sentences are so well-written you want to pluck them out, stab them with little corn holders, and eat them." Sam Anderson on Franzen's novel, New York Magazine

"Why was Freedom written?" B. R. Myers also weighs in, The Atlantic

"Grossman invites us to look beneath the shrill headlines, beyond the roadblocks, within the clenched fist — to see Israel’s predicament not as 'the situation' but as many situations, one for every person.” Donna Rifkind on To the End of the Land, Kansas City Star

"Keilson treats his characters tenderly, sympathizing with their difficulties and forgiving them their mistakes…. Keilson's work as a psychoanalyst displays an empathy and a sensitivity to suffering that are surely the equal—if not arguably the superior—of any of which a novelist is capable." Dan Vitale on Comedy in a Minor Key, which was originally published in German in 1947 (in a review that also covers Keilson’s Death of the Adversary), Three Percent

"One of Murray's achievements is to evoke the mournfully short-lived nature of adolescent forevers." Richard Eder on Skippy Dies, Los Angeles Times

"Dow’s candor seems so absolute that readers on both sides of the [death penalty] debate
can gain insight into the thought process of an experienced advocate.
His prose is captivating." Steve Weinberg on Autobiography of an Execution, Christian Science Monitor

"Hitchens’s political writing radiates anger and toughness, but his stories of his loved ones are remarkably sensitive and emotionally real.” Michael Schaub on Hitch 22, National Public Radio

"Hiroshima in the Morning is a deeply affecting record of the author’s exploration of story and memory, and an intriguing addition to existing 9/11-related books.” J. G. Stinson on Rizzuto’s memoir, ForeWord Reviews

"Just Kids is the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of
funky-but-chic New York in the late sixties and early seventies that any alumnus has committed to print." Tom Carson on Smith's memoir, New York Times Book Review

"What is truly exceptional here is watching a writer of fine fiction…probe, directly, carefully and with great humility, the source from which his fiction springs." Dani Shapiro on Strauss’s Half a Life, New York Times Book Review

March 10

3.10.11

Think of a piece of gossip you've heard and identify the least sympathetic person involved. Maybe it's the adulterous mother of two? Or the Salvation Army bell ringer who, during the holidays, pocketed some of the donations he'd collected? Write a story from the perspective of the least sympathetic person with the piece of gossip as the narrative climax. You might also try writing the story with the piece of gossip as the inciting action of the story, as the event that sets everything in motion.
This week's fiction prompt comes from Bret Anthony Johnston, fiction writer and editor of Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer.

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