The action at TMN’s Tournament of books continues. Judge Marcus Sakey shocked the world by selecting The Emperor’s Children over The Echo Maker, which was, to my mind, the presumptive favorite having taken down the National Book Award and all manner of praise from critics spanning the globe. But this, folks, is why we play the games. The Echo Maker going down early hurts our chances to win this thing as we had it going all the way (my pdf bracket). Luckily, a number of other folks had the book going far as well, so the damage is somewhat limited. In other news, the little rat that could, Firmin, made it through round one, selected by judge Sarah Hepola over Brookland, which she found to be “so boring.”
The Pulitzer jury named Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer this year’s winner in the fiction category.
Here are this year’s Pulitzer winners and finalists with bonus links:
Winner: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Nguyen’s Year in Reading 2015)
Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link (Memory is a Mysterious Machine: The Millions Interviews Kelly Link)
Maud’s Line by Margaret Verble
Winner: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quran by Carla Power
Winner: Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles
Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War by Brian Matthew Jordan
Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid That Avenged Pearl Harbor by James M. Scott
Biography or Autobiography:
Winner: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles
The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
Winners and finalists in other categories are available at the Pulitzer Web site.
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.”
It’s been a busy week on the awards circuit. What seemed like a relatively calm Booker season grew divisive after the winner was announced: “The worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest,” said former Booker judge Boyd Tonkin of this year’s choice, John Banville’s The Sea, and then the Irish press called the British press “bitchy” (reg. req.) in response. The National Book Awards, meanwhile, will likely involve less controversy than last year thanks to a more diverse mix of finalists. And the less said about the Quills, the better.But it has been the Nobel Prize for Literature, usually a civilized affair, that has been grabbing headlines this year. First, it came to light that the award was being delayed a week as the judges fought over the politics of a potential Laureate, the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk. Then, a day before the announcement, former judge Knut Ahnlund denounced last year’s Nobel winner Elfriede Jelinek, whose writing he called “whingeing, unenjoyable, violent pornography.” But now we have a new Laureate, and he seems less likely to incite controversy, the British playwright, Harold Pinter, whose name, as the LA Times puts it, “has become a synonym for a unique space in the universe of drama.” Pinter is the first British Laureate since V.S. Naipaul in 2001, and he is, as far as I can tell, the first playwright to win the Nobel since Eugene O’Neill in 1936. For those wanting to get their hands on Pinter’s body of work, try his Complete Works: One and TwoUpdate: So, from Richard and Jenny in the comments, it seems as though Dario Fo and Wole Soyinka are more recently lauded playwrights than O’Neill, and possibly there are others depending on how you classify them.
This year’s “Genius grant” winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $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:
Junot Díaz is no stranger to readers of The Millions. His novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was tops in our reader poll for the best books of the first decade of the millennium (and #11 among our panelists. Martha Southgate told us why.) It’s also a Millions Hall of Famer. Díaz first came to our attention with his incredible debut collection, Drown, and he recently returned with another hotly anticipated collection, This Is How You Lose Her, which was recently a jumping off point for an essay exploring Díaz’s “niftiest literary trick.” Finally, Díaz once graced these pages, sharing unique reading recommendations as a participant in our annual Year in Reading series.
Dinaw Mengestu has two books under his belt: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air. Mengestu became known to a wider audience after being named to the New Yorker’s widely discussed “20 under 40” list in 2010. Mengestu, who was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but moved to the United States when he was two years old, was also one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” authors in 2007.
Journalist David Finkel is best known for his work as a staff writer at the Washington Post, where he won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006. He is also the author of the book The Good Soldiers, which is an account of his time embedded with a division of Army Rangers in 2007 as part of the “Surge” meant to turn the tide in the Iraq War. That book won the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, which is given to a book that exemplifies, “literary grace, a commitment to serious research and social concern.”
Aravind Adiga of India has won the Booker Prize for his debut novel The White Tiger. In the official announcement, head judge Michael Portillo said “In the end, The White Tiger prevailed because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure. The novel undertakes the extraordinarily difficult task of gaining and holding the reader’s sympathy for a thoroughgoing villain. The book gains from dealing with pressing social issues and significant global developments with astonishing humour.” An excerpt of the book is available, as well.See Also: The Longlist.
Don’t miss out on the start of the 2009 Tournament of Books, perhaps the highlight of the competitive reading circuit. As might be expected, 2666 easily vanquishes its underdog opponent, Steer Toward Rock, though the color commentary suggests perhaps that not everyone will be so enamored with Bolaño’s masterpiece. (And indeed, I suggest that anyone reading the ToB this year be sure to read Kevin Guilfoile’s and John Warner’s commentary as well. It is equal parts amusing and insightful.)Stay tuned for my own ToB judging appearance once the Tournament hits the second round.