Tag Archives: National Book Award

2013 National Book Award in Fiction Longlist

Don’t you just love this time of year?  Awards time!  No, not the Emmys or any of that, but the National Book Awards, of course!

The 2013 National Book Award in Fiction longlist was recently announced.

Here are the novels in contention for America’s top literary prize:











Which of these have you read?  Any surprises??  Any book and author who you believe should have been but was not?

Which do you think will take home the title?  Do you have a favorite among these contenders?



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Spotlight on The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds has been heralded as “a war novel written by a veteran of Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two soldiers trying to stay alive in the most unforgiving of landscapes.” (from the jacket copy)


Recently, Powers was nominated for a National Book Award in fiction for his debut.

I am about to begin reading this novel. The following comes from the jacket copy:

“‘The war tried to kill us in the spring,’ begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss.  In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year-old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city.  In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.

Bound together since basic training, when their tough-as-nails sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.  As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him, and Bartle takes impossible actions.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a distant war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds captures the almost unimaginable costs of war in language that is precise and truthful.  It is destined to become a classic.

Kevin Powers joined the army at the age of seventeen and served as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008 and is a Michener Fellow in Poetry at the University of Texas at Austin.”

Powers knows war, and this could just take home a National Book Award in fiction.



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Spotlight on The Round House by Louise Erdrich

I am about to begin reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich, which was recently nominated for a National Book Award in Fiction.       Could Erdrich take home the award next month??

The following is taken from the National Book Foundation’s web site.


One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared. While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.


Louise Erdrich is the author of fourteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Most recently, The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Erdrich lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore.


Louise Erdrich’s Bookstore, Birchbark Books
> birchbarkbooks.com

Louise Erdrich’s page on HarperCollins Publishers website
> http://www.harpercollins.com/authors/2905/Louise_Erdrich/index.aspx

AUDIO: In ‘House,’ Erdrich Sets Revenge On A Reservation
by NPR STAFF, All Things Considered
> www.npr.org/2012/10/02/162086064/in-house-erdrich-sets-revenge-on-a-reservation


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National Book Awards, 2012

Who will you be rooting for?

National Book Awards – 2012


Fiction Finalists


Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group USA, Inc.)

Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King (McSweeney’s Books)

Louise ErdrichThe Round House (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Ben FountainBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Kevin PowersThe Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company)


Stacey D’ErasmoDinaw MengestuLorrie MooreJanet Peery


2012 NBA Nonfiction Finalists


Anne ApplebaumIron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956 (Doubleday)

Katherine BooBehind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House)

Robert A. CaroThe Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4 (Knopf)

Domingo MartinezThe Boy Kings of Texas (Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press)

Anthony ShadidHouse of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)


Brad GoochLinda Gordon, Woody HoltonSusan OrleanJudith Shulevitz


2012 NBA Poetry Finalists


David FerryBewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press)

Cynthia HuntingtonHeavenly Bodies (Southern Illinois University Press)

Tim SeiblesFast Animal (Etruscan Press)

Alan ShapiroNight of the Republic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Susan WheelerMeme (University of Iowa Press)


Laura KasischkeDana LevinMaurice ManningPatrick RosalTracy K. Smith


2012 NBA YPL  Finalists


William Alexander, Goblin Secrets (Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Carrie ArcosOut of Reach (Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing)

Patricia McCormickNever Fall Down (Balzer+Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Eliot SchreferEndangered (Scholastic)

Steve SheinkinBomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
(Flash Point, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press)


Susan CooperDaniel EhrenhaftJudith Ortiz Cofer, Gary D. SchmidtMarly Youmans



New York, New York (September 19, 2012) – The National Book Foundation, presenter of the National Book Awards, will present its 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Elmore Leonard in recognition of his outstanding achievement in fiction writing. For over five decades, Leonard’s westerns, crime novels, serialized novels, and stories have enthralled generations of readers. Author Martin Amis will present the Medal to Leonard at the 63rd National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani, Wall Street, in New York City on Wednesday, November 14, 2012. Television and radio host, political and pop culture commentator, journalist, and actor Faith Salie will host the event.

Today’s announcement coincides with the announcement by The Library of America that it will publish a three-volume edition of Leonard’s crime novels in its esteemed series beginning in fall 2014.  National Book Foundation Executive Director Harold Augenbraum said of the selection, “For a half-century, Elmore Leonard has produced vibrant literary work with an inimitable writing style. We are particularly pleased that as we at the National Book Foundation recognize his achievement, the Library of America—which publishes, and keeps permanently in print, authoritative editions of America’s best and most significant writing—has announced that Leonard will join other great American authors in its literary pantheon.”

Save the Date for the 2012 NBA Dinner and CeremonyAlso on that evening, the National Book Foundation will bestow its 2012 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Communityon Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times,for his continuing efforts through the New York Times Book Review and online book coverage to ensure an ongoing conversation about books in American culture. While re-thinking and implementing innovative print and online initiatives at the Times, Sulzberger and the Times staff have shown their devotion to the coverage of books, whether by profiling authors and their work or reporting on literary culture as a whole. “It’s hard to overstate the impact of The New York Times on the discussion about books in America,” Augenbraum said. For well over a century, The New York Times has been central to America’s book culture.”

Leonard is the twenty-fifth recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, which was created in 1988 to recognize a lifetime of literary achievement. Previous recipients include John Ashbery, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, Gore Vidal, and Tom Wolfe. This year’s ceremony marks the eighth year that the Foundation has presented the Literarian Award, which was established in 2005 to recognize an individual whose work has enhanced the literary world during a lifetime of service. Previous recipients include Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein, Terry Gross, Barney Rosset, Dave Eggers, Joan Ganz Cooney, and Mitchell Kaplan.

Nominations for these awards are made by former National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, as well as other writers and literary professionals from around the country. Final selections are made by the National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors.

The twenty Finalists for the National Book Awards in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature will be announced on Wednesday, October 10, 2012.


Faith Salie


Faith Salie is a television and national public radio host, political and pop culture commentator, interviewer, “ethics expert,” journalist, and actor, as well as a Rhodes Scholar, who’s been a standup comedian. She’s written for Oprah.com, Slate.com, and CNN.com and The Huffington Post. She was the host and co-executive producer of the national public radio show “Fair Game from PRI with Faith Salie,” and is the co-host of a new public radio podcast, “RelationsShow,” a slightly nerdy look at love, sex, and relationships.

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Meeting Jesmyn Ward

On Saturday, December 17, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, I had the honor and pleasure to meet National Book Award winner and Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward.  Ward is the author of Salvage the Bones and Where the Line Bleeds.  She is only 34 years old and is already a prestigious author.

I asked Ward how it felt to win the National Book Award.  She said she still cannot believe it.  She is still overwhelmed and keeps thinking one day she will wake up and it will all have been a dream.  There was a great crowd at Lemuria of readers who wanted to meet this remarkable young woman.  She was humble, friendly, and smiling.  She took up time with everyone, inscribing and lining her novels.

After the signing, Ward read from Salvage the Bones in Lemuria’s Dot Com Building.  Unfortunately, I could not stay to hear her, but I heard she has a wonderful speaking voice.  That’s good, because I believe Ward will win many awards; in fact, the National Book Award is just one of many for this talented young Mississippi writer.

If you have not yet picked up Salvage the Bones, I urge you to do so.  It is very real, it is heart-wrenching, it is well-written, and it is powerful.  While you’re at it, also pick up her first novel, Where the Line Bleeds.  Immerse yourself into Ward’s writing.  You will be glad you did.

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The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline

The Great Lenore by J.M. Tohline

            Just imagine.  You are an author who was once nominated for a National Book Award.  You are working on a new novel, but your life is crazy.  You yearn to get away, go to the seashore, and let the ocean inspire you.  On Nantucket, you can write as you please, watch the waves, and fill your head with your characters so that they come alive on the page.  Imagine you are Richard Parkland, the narrator of J.M. Tohline’s debut novel The Great Lenore.  Writing is the last thing you end up doing on your quiet beach vacation.


Tohline grew up near Boston and lives on the edge of the Great Plains with his cat called The Old Man And The Sea.  The Great Lenore is his first novel but definitely not his last.


A friend invites Parkland to stay at his Nantucket beach house over the holiday season, and Parkland readily accepts to work on a new novel.  He becomes friendly with the wealthy Montanas who own the mansion next door; he ends up having Thanksgiving with them.  The merriment of the holidays are cut short, though, when Lenore, married to one of the Montana sons, dies in a plane crash.  The family is devastated, and Parkland feels out of place.  After all, he did not know Lenore.  He is shocked when the ghost of Lenore ends up on his porch!  Lenore missed her plane, yet this character at the center of Tohline’s story, is so shallow that she will not even tell her husband she is alive.  Her husband has a mistress, you see, and they have been growing apart.  Yet, Lenore is in love with Jez, a man who works for the Montanas and who she has known for a very long time.  Lenore and Jez have a complicated and complex relationship.  I saw Lenore as a shallow young woman of privilege.  She does not care who she hurts.  She destroys people’s lives on a whim.  Just what is so great about Lenore?  I am afraid I cannot tell you.  Yet this novel is so “right now.”  Lenore and the Montanas represent the very rich who do what they please, while the little people, like you and me and Parkland get stepped on and used along the way.


Nantucket comes to life in The Great Lenore and becomes the perfect backdrop.  I can think of no other locale that would have done this novel justice.


The Great Lenore is a stylish novella.  His prose is clever and witty.  Tohline explores such themes as fate versus free will and second chances.  I believe readers will see themselves in Richard Parkland, an uncomplicated man who just cannot seem to process what he has witnessed.  The reader will root for Parkland, just as the reader will praise Tohline.  I predict we see great things from Tohline.

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Mississippi’s Own Jesmyn Ward Wins National Book Award

Only Jesmyn Ward, a native Mississippian, could have written a book like this.  The Batiste family experiences the mighty wrath of a storm named Katrina, a storm like no other that ravages not only a household but also brutally alters the surrounding landscape.  In Ward’s novel, water serves two purposes: it cleanses and it destructs.  Ward proves with her second novel Salvage the Bones that she deserves a place among Mississippi’s finest literary greats.

Ward previously wrote Where the Line Bleeds, which was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.  She received an MFA degree from the University of Michigan and won many awards and honors while a student.  From 2008 to 2010, Ward was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.  She was also the 2010-2011 John and Renѐe Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.  Currently, Ward is an Assistant Professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama in Mobile.  She grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi.

Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award in fiction on November 16, 2011.   Congratulations to Ward!  The award is given only to books written by American citizens and published in the United States.  Categories are fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young people’s literature; only five books are considered per category.  The winner received a bronze sculpture, $10,000, and enormous prestige.  Besides Ward’s Salvage the Bones, other nominees for 2011 NBA were Andrew Krivak (The Sojourn); Téa Obreht (The Tiger’s Wife); Julie Otsuka (The Buddha in the Attic); and Edith Pearlman (Binocular Vision).  Previous winners include Jaimy Gordon for Lord of Misrule and Colum McCann for Let the Great World Spin.

Ward chooses to tell the story in the first person through Esch Batiste, a teenage girl growing up in tiny, coastal Bois Sauvage.   Esch is the only female in a household of boys and men; her mother died in childbirth.  The reader also meets Mr. Claude Batiste, the father, lonely for his wife and always on the lookout for storms.  Mr. Claude is prescient during the active hurricane season of 2005 when he predicts a storm will hit them.  “What you think I been talking about?  I knew it was coming,” Mr. Claude says.  He urges his family to prepare.  Esch’s brothers also feature prominently in the story.  Randall plays basketball, and he excels at the sport.  Desperate to attend basketball camp, Randall knows the only way he will go to college is if he wins a scholarship.  Skeetah, in my view, is the most interesting of Esch’s brothers.  He is so attached to his dog China that at times he seems like the animal’s mother or lover: “Skeetah bends down to China, feels her from neck to jaw, caresses her face like he would kiss her….”  Yet, Skeetah uses China in dog fights.  The smallest Batiste brother is Junior, the baby, who never knew his mother.  Junior loves to get into trouble and trail after his older siblings.  He worships his brothers and wants to take every step they take.  On the surface, it might seem like a perfect family.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  Esch is pregnant, a fact she is keeping secret from everyone: “If I could, I would reach inside of me and pull out my heart and that tiny wet seed that will become the baby.”

With dog fighting, Ward takes on a controversial subject and does not shy away from it.  Without a doubt, dog fighting is cruel and should be abhorred, yet Ward puts a different spin on this sport.  Dog fighting is prevalent not only in the South but also within the African-American community.  Both come together here in the Batiste clan.  It is also a cheap form of entertainment in rural areas where nothing else might be going on.  As a dog lover, I was surprised by how Ward handled dog fighting.  With the Michael Vick scandal a few years ago, I had a preconceived notion of who owners were who would participate in such cruel behavior.  However, Skeetah did not fit into my stereotype.  He loved China, he took great care with her, and he took great care with her puppies.  The subject added so much to the book and also provided a wonderful sub-plot to make a good novel that much better.  I applaud Ward for writing about such a potentially dangerous topic.

Meanwhile, as Esch reads Edith Hamilton’s Mythology for school, she compares herself to Medea.  Medea, in Greek mythology, was an enchantress who used her powers to help Jason and the Argonauts find the Golden Fleece.  “Medea’s journey took her to the water, which was the highway of the ancient world, where death was as close as the waves, the sun, [and] the wind.”  In ancient Greece, Ward writes, “water meant death.”  Ward uses Medea so readers can compare this to Katrina.  Ultimately, Katrina cleanses and destroys at the same time.  The storm mends a family at the breaking point while also destroying a way of life and a landscape.  In this same vein, Ward uses hurricane metaphors throughout, a superb foreshadowing technique, such as “frothing waves.”

Hurricane Katrina, even before it has formed, looms over the entire book.  With Katrina churning, making a bull’s eye for the Mississippi coast, the reader knows it will not end well.  Although we already know what will happen, Ward manages to give us a suspense-filled novel.  We are attached to the characters and want the best for them; we want them to survive.  But nothing came out unscathed from Katrina, and the Batiste family is no exception.

Salvage the Bones is always emotional, readable, and real.   No one who ever lived through Hurricane Katrina could read this novel and not cry.  It is just impossible.  Ward’s name has hereby been added to the list of Mississippi’s literary giants.  Faulkner, Welty, Foote, Grisham, Ward.

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