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2016’s Literary Geniuses

This year’s “Genius grant” winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $625,000 “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:

Maggie Nelson is known best for her non-fiction. Often described as some combination of “lyrical” and “philosophical,” Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction have won her a steadfast following. She might be described as a “writer’s writer.” The evidence is in how often her books are named by other writers in our annual Year in Reading series. Bluets, a meditation on the color blue, won praise from David Shields (“utterly brilliant”), Stephen Elliott (“excellent”), Haley Mlotek (“I read Bluets twice in the same plane ride.”), Leslie Jamison, Jaquira Díaz, and Margaret Eby. Meaghan O’Connell wrote of Nelson, “She is one of those people for me, writers who I want to cross all boundaries with, writers from whom I ask too much. She makes me want more than, as a reader, I deserve. She already gives us more than we deserve. It isn’t fair.” Many of the above writers also praised Nelson’s more recent The Argonauts, “a genre-bending memoir,” as did Bijan Stephen, Olivia Laing (“It thinks deeply and with immense nuance and grace”), Karolina Waclawiak (“I found myself underlining on nearly every page”), and Parul Sehgal. Nelson herself appeared in our Year in Reading last year, shining light on books by Eileen Myles and Ellen Miller, among others.

Claudia Rankine, poet, has received especially wide acclaim for her “provocative meditation on race” Citizen: An American Lyric, a book that (perhaps along with Between the World and Me by last year’s “Genius” Ta-Nehisi Coates) that can be pointed to as a literary catalyst. Many may have first become aware of Rankine earlier this year, when her book — wielded as an object of protest — was caught by cameras behind a ranting Donald Trump at one of his rallies. MacArthur rightly describes Rankine as “a critical voice in current conversations about racial violence.” Ed Simon named Citizen this moment’s best candidate in his search for America’s great epic poem.

In its announcement, MacArthur says artist and writer Lauren Redniss “is an artist and writer seamlessly integrating artwork, written text, and design elements in works of visual nonfiction. Redniss undertakes archival research, interviews and reportage, and field expeditions to inform every aspect of a book’s creation, from its text, to its format and page layout, to the design of the typeface, to the printing and drawing techniques used for the artwork.” Redniss is probably best-known for 2011 National Book Award finalist Radioactive, a vibrantly illustrated biography of pioneering scientists Marie and Pierre Curie. Our own Hannah Gersen described it as “elaborately beautiful.”

Gene Luen Yang has smashed stereotypes with his vibrant graphic novels, American Born Chinese, The Eternal Smile (with Derek Kirk Kim), and Boxers & Saints. Our 2010 interview with Yang explored his influences and his work.

The lone playwright to be named a “genius” this year is Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. “Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings.”

Sarah Stillman has become a byline to look for in The New Yorker, carrying out journalistic investigations that have raised public outrage and spurred recalcitrant politicians into action. “Taken” is perhaps her best-known article. It investigates how local police forces have used the principal of “civil asset forfeiture” to plunder citizens and enrich themselves.

2013 National Book Award Shortlists Released

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The contenders for the 2013 National Book Award were pared down to a five nominees in each category today. Winners will be announced in New York City on November 20.

Fans of Jhumpa Lahiri will be excited to know that after missing out on yesterday’s Man Booker Prize, the Lowland author is still squarely in the running for the National Book Award. Of course, in order to attain the honor she’s going to have to beat out former Millions Top Ten member George Saunders and Millions favorite Rachel Kushner – as well as previous NBA winner Thomas Pynchon. On the nonfiction list, Millions readers should recognize George Packer’s The Unwinding, which Chris Barsanti called an “awe-inspiring X-Ray of the modern American soul.”

At the final awards ceremony on November 20, each finalist will receive $1,000, and each winner will receive an additional $10,000. Additional awards will also be goven to E.L. Doctorow and Maya Angelou, who will be receiving the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and the Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community, respectively. The National Book Foundation has also announced that free e-books will be released containing excerpts from each of the works on the shortlist. (We’ll have more on that when it’s available.) Edit: The new e-books are now available for the Fiction Finalists, Nonfiction Finalists, Poetry Finalists, and Young People’s Literature Finalists. (E-books for other platforms are available here.)

Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:

Fiction:

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Millions review, Millions interview)
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (excerpt)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (excerpt)
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (first page, excerpt)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (Millions review)

Nonfiction:

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore (review)
Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (Millions review)
The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 by Alan Taylor (review)
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (reviewexcerpt)

Poetry:

Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart (review)
Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido (review)
The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka (excerpt)
Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
Incarnadine by Mary Szybist (review)

Young People’s Literature:

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (review)
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (review)
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (review)

2013 National Book Award Longlists Released

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This year the National Book Award finalists were released in a series of four longlists consisting of ten books apiece. Five finalists in each category will be selected by October 16, and winners will be announced in New York City on November 20.

Last year, the fiction finalists included far more male authors than female, however the count is even in 2013. Millions readers will be delighted to find George Saunders’s latest story collection on the fiction list. The former Top Ten member was reviewed on our site last May. Saunders is joined by Rachel Kushner, whose second novel “operates outside — above? — many of the current arguments about the novel,” according to our own Bill Morris. Likewise, Millions readers should be familiar with George Packer’s “awe-inspiring X-Ray of the modern American soul” on the nonfiction list.

Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:

Fiction:

Pacific by Tom Drury (excerpt)
The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (excerpt)
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Millions review, Millions interview)
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (excerpt)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (excerpt)
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (excerpt)
Someone by Alice McDermott (excerpt)
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (first page, excerpt)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (Millions review)
Fools by Joan Silber (Millions interview)

Nonfiction:

Finding Florida: The True Story of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman (excerpt, audiobook excerpt)
Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami by Gretel Ehrlich (excerpt)
The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA by Scott C. Johnson (excerpt)
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore (review)
Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower
Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 by James Oakes (review)
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (Millions review)
The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772–1832 by Alan Taylor (review)
Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington by Terry Teachout (review)
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (review, excerpt)

Poetry:

Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart (review)
Bury My Clothes by Roger Bonair-Agard (excerpt)
Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido (review)
So Recently Rent a World, New and Selected Poems: 1968–2012 by Andrei Codrescu (interview)
Seasonal Works With Letters on Fire by Brenda Hillman (author reading)
The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka (excerpt)
American Amnesiac by Diane Raptosh (excerpt)
Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
Transfer of Qualities by Martha Ronk
Incarnadine by Mary Szybist (review)

Young People’s Literature:

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (review)
Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell (review)
A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (excerpt)
The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson (review, excerptaudiobook excerpt)
The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (review)
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal
Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, illustrated by Erin McGuire
Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (review)

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