Joseph Epstein (Fabulous Small Jews, Snobbery) takes a look at the glut of awards, literary and otherwise in a Wall Street Journal piece: “All this prize-giving has made the field of culture rather like one of those progressive preschools where, on graduation day, even the most hopeless child is given a prize for not actually maiming his classmates.”
It'll be in tomorrow's papers and on most Web sites tonight at midnight but a couple of foreign papers have posted their stories early: Jonathan Lethem has been awarded a genius grant worth $500,000. I'll update this post tomorrow with more details once all the winners are officially announced.Update: Well. Not much to report. Usually there's three or four literary-related Macarthur Fellows, but this year there are just two, Terry Belanger, a rare book preservationist from the University of Virginia, and Lethem. Here's the only Lethem quote about his windfall that I could find so far (from the NY Daily News): "'You probably ought to check in with me in six months,' he said. 'I think I can safely say it's going to give me a lot of the security and freedom that any artist craves.'" I'm sure that he will be compelled to discuss his plans at length sooner than that, and I'm sure other folks will be weighing in on the meaning of this honor for Lethem soon enough, as well.
The shortlist for a still fairly new, but very worthwhile award has been announced. The Best Translated Book Award highlights work in translation (of course), a corner of the literary world that gets far less attention in the U.S. than it deserves. "The Best Translated Book Awards launched in 2007 as a way of bringing attention to great works of international literature. Original translations (no reprints or retranslations) published between December 2009 and November 2010 are eligible for this year’s award. Quality of the original book and the artistry of the English translation are the criteria used in determining the winning titles. Thanks to the support of Amazon.com, each winning author and translator will receive a $5,000 cash prize." The shortlist comprises ten books, and six languages are represented: The Literary Conference by César Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz, translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin The Jokers by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky Hocus Bogus by Romain Gary (writing as Émile Ajar), translated from the French by David Bellos The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal On Elegance While Sleeping by Emilio Lascano Tegui, translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg
● ● ●
The winners of the 2006 National Book Awards have been announced. A year after William T. Vollmann won the fiction award it has gone to Richard Powers for The Echo Maker (excerpt), marking a shift in focus (though perhaps not yet a "trend") toward honoring some of the names on the leading edge of American fiction. The New York Times, in its writeup, mentions that "as in recent years, the fiction category raised eyebrows in the publishing industry for its lack of commercially known nominees in a year of big-name authors," but I don't recall hearing much rumbling about the nominees. If anything, as I wrote when the nominees were announced, this year's nominees "satisfyingly occupy the sweet spot between obscurity and being, well, too obvious." And if one looks at the bodies of work of the five nominees, as well as their literary reputations, Powers was certainly deserving of this plaudit. Judging on his book alone, from what I've heard, he is a worthy winner, as well.In nonfiction, the award went to Timothy Egan for The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (excerpt) taking on a very important topic in American history that hasn't gotten much attention from the writers of popular history. The Young People's Literature award was given to M.T. Anderson for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party (excerpt), sparing us the possibility of an angry backlash against those darn graphic novels. And for Poetry, the award was given to Nathaniel Mackey for Splay Anthem (poem).
● ● ●
The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced last night. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It's also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 17th) were all published in 2008, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There's a distinct upside in this. By now, all the shortlisted books are available in paperback. We've also always found the IMPAC interesting for the breadth of books it considers.This year's shortlist is typically eclectic, representing six countries and ranging from bestsellers, to relative unknowns.The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker (excerpt (pdf), Best Translated Book Award shortlist)The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (excerpt (pdf))In Zodiac Light by Robert Edric(Guardian review)Settlement by Christoph Hein (at The Complete Review)The Believers by Zoë Heller (The Millions Interview)Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (O’Neill in our Year in Reading, Garth's review, Kevin's review)God's Own Country by Ross Raisin (excerpt)Home by Marilynne Robinson (excerpt)
● ● ●
This year's "Genius grant" winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $625,000 -- up from $500,000 -- “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Alongside, scientists, artists and scholars are some newly minted geniuses with a literary focus. This year’s literary geniuses are: Karen Russell has been a name to watch in literature ever since her story "Haunting Olivia" appeared in the New Yorker's Debut Fiction issue in 2005, just shy of her 25th birthday. That story would be collected in St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which made her name as literary writer known for imbuing her stories with fantasy and supernatural elements. She would follow up with novel Swamplandia!, and this year's collection Vampires in the Lemon Grove, which has done some time on our Top Ten list this year, most recently in July. We've interviewed Russell twice at The Millions. In 2011, she discussed her genre-straddling tendencies as a writer: "I had a lot of fun writing Swamplandia! because it felt like I could juggle different kinds of worlds. And I feel like in life we’re all sort of operating in different registers all the time." This year, she elaborated further, "What’s attractive to me about those stories is in a way they feel so much more honest and so much closer to the real deep and uncanny experience of being alive. They now have this emotional vocabulary to talk about how really freaking weird it is to live any average Tuesday. In addition, it’s exciting to be the arbiter of a whole world." Donald Antrim is not a household name but he is revered among writers as an incisive memoirist and creator of experimental novels. He debuted with Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World and followed it up with The Hundred Brothers and The Verificationist. The three books were re-issued in 2011 and 2012 with new introductions by none other than Jeffrey Eugenides, George Saunders, and Jonathan Franzen. His memoir, The Afterlife, came in 2006. Last year, after diving into Antrim's three re-issued novels, our own Lydia Kiesling wrote, "I suspect it’s not so much a function of age that has these books reappearing now. Rather, someone out there knew they hadn’t had their fair shake. They knew there were people who needed these novels — frustrated people and weird people and people who prefer a very correct, very unusual deployment of the English language: formal but personal, arch, hilarious, possessed of a slightly antiquarian flavor. Even very great writers don’t often write like this."