The winners of the Lettre Ulysses Award – a prize for book-length reportage that I discussed a few weeks ago – have been announced. Alexandra Fuller’s account of her travels with a white, African mercenary, Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier took the 50,000 Euro first prize while A Season in Mecca: Narrative of a Pilgrimage by Moroccan Abdellah Hammoudi and Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq by Riverbend won the 30,000 Euro second prize and 20,000 Euro third prize, respectively.
Back in January I briefly made mention of something called the WHSmith Award. It’s a British award that is determined by public opinion. People vote from a list of nominated finalists to determine the best book of the year. After 148,000 votes cast, they have announced the winners in eight categories, including the latest Harry Potter in the fiction category, Brick Lane by Monica Ali for best debut novel, Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer for travel books, and Michael Moore’s Dude, Where’s My Country?, in something called the “factual” category. So as not turn over complete control to the masses, the also give out an award called the “Judges’ Choice,” which was awarded to the American writer, Richard Powers for his dense critical favorite, The Time of Our Singing. As I said when I first found out about this award, I would be very interested to see the results of an American award determined by popular vote. A lot more Americans read than people think, so an astute businessperson could, in my opinion, do quite well creating an award like this to fill the void. Here are the complete results of the 2004 WHSmith Awards.
81-year-old Peter Matthiessen has taken home the National Book Award for fiction in something of an upset. His book, Shadow Country (excerpt), as the Bloomberg notes, came about after he “rewrote and compressed portions of his novels about the murderous Florida sugar-cane farmer Edgar J. Watson — Killing Mister Watson, Lost Man’s River and Bone by Bone — into a single 892-page volume published by the Modern Library.”While Matthiessen’s win was perhaps a slight upset over Marilynne Robinson, whose Home was a sequel to Pulitzer-winning Gilead, the bigger upset was on the non-fiction side, where Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (excerpt) beat out The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer. Mayer’s indictment of the Bush administration’s anti-terror tactics grabbed plenty of headlines this year, but The Hemingses of Monticello, despite being less obviously timely, was highly regarded for moving the ball forward in pursuing the thorny truth behind Thomas Jefferson and his slaves. Indeed, Jill Lepore made a very compelling case for the book in the New Yorker in September.Rounding out the winners, Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems by Mark Doty (poem) won the poetry category and the award in young people’s literature went to What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.