Last year we noted that by honoring William T. Vollmann in 2005 and then Richard Powers the following year, the National Book Award seemed to be making a move toward "honoring some of the names on the leading edge of American fiction," as opposed to the old guard or the merely obscure. One could say that the NBA has always filled this roll, but it seemed to have lost its focus in the years before 2005, particularly in 2004, when five relative unknowns were nominated for the fiction prize and the entire literary community seemed collectively bewildered.The NBA has stayed true to form, however, in 2007 with a strong slate of nominees and with this year's fiction winner, named last night, Denis Johnson, for his Vietnam War novel Tree of Smoke. In discussing the finalists, we called Johnson the "presumptive favorite," and he was a favorite that many readers seemed to want to win. We have a review of the book available, and curious readers can also check out an excerpt. With Johnson away on assignment in Iraq, his wife accepted the award for him.Moving to the other categories, Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the C.I.A. (excerpt) took home the non-fiction prize, beating out Christopher Hitchens. Sherman Alexie, whose adult fiction has never made the cut for the fiction award, was a winner in the Young People's Literature category for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (excerpt). The poetry award went to Robert Hass for Time and Materials (poem).For more on the award ceremony, check out the Times writeup. And Ed, who attended with several other bloggers, offered his own coverage as well.
This year's National Book Award finalists have been announced. In the fiction category, the big name is Denis Johnson, who immediately becomes the presumptive favorite for his novel Tree of Smoke. Joshua Ferris, meanwhile, makes a splash with his debut effort Then We Came to the End. And in the nonfiction category, let's not ignore "The Hitch." Not making the cut are notable novelists like Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Jane Smiley, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Don Delillo, Junot Diaz, and Richard Russo. Here's a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available:Fiction:Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski (excerpts)Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis (briefly noted)Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (excerpt, a favorite of TEV's, a "most anticipated" book)Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (excerpt, a "most anticipated" book)Like You'd Understand, Anyway by Jim Shepard (excerpt, Apparently, Shepard's publisher forgot to submit his books for NBA consideration in 2004)Nonfiction:Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat (excerpt)God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens (excerpt, Atheism Hits the Bestseller ListUnruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution by Woody Holton (excerpt)Ralph Ellison: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad (excerpt)Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner (excerpt)Poetry:Magnetic North by Linda Gregerson (excerpt)Time and Materials by Robert Hass (poem)The House on Boulevard St. by David Kirby (excerpt, Kirby's colorful website)Old Heart by Stanley Plumly (excerpt)Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 by Ellen Bryant Voigt (poem)Young People's Literature:The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (excerpt)Skin Hunger: A Resurrection of Magic, Book One by Kathleen Duey (excerpt)Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin (excerpt)The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (excerpt)Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (author blog)