Up next: the National Book Awards

Wolf Hall by Hilary MantelThe winner of the U.K.’s Man Booker Prize was announced today:  Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Next week, on this side of the pond, the National Book Foundation will announce the 20 finalists for its 2009 National Book Awards (NBA) in fiction, non-fiction, poetry and young people’s lit. 

The winner will be announced November 18.

The NBA website says 193 publishers submitted 1,129 books for the 2009 awards and then breaks them down into the categories, as of August 13, 2009:

  • 236 for fiction
  • 481 for non-fiction
  • 161 for poetry
  • 251 for young people’s lit. 

The National Book Award can be fun for the surprises that often make the list of nominees and the controversy that can unfold. 

Last year questions flew about Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country. (It won for fiction.) In 2004, the nominees were virtually unknown and many booed and hissed.  One critic called them “narrow-minded nominations.”

Also in the archives of NBA surprises is the 1987 winner Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann over the favored Beloved by Toni Morrison.  The literary community was stunned. 

I studied with Heineman in graduate school while he was writing the winning novel. I wrote congratulations, and Larry responded in a long letter that described the awards dinner, including this: 

“…I went not expecting anything at all, just a bit of recognition as a nominee, a very good dinner sitting next to my editor who I get to see very rarely, and a business meeting with my agent the next morning. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t win the thing, much to the consternatoin [sic] of the NY Times.”

4 thoughts on “Up next: the National Book Awards

  1. I’m halfway through “Wolf Hall” right now and daggum if I can’t put it down. It’s crazy good. I find myself in the curious position of liking Thomas Cromwell. I still have most of the Booker shortlist to go! NBA are going to give me more to order and digest. What’s a girl to do?


    1. I’m glad to hear Wolf Hall’s snagged you. The NYT gave it a good review yet said, “This witty, densely populated book may experience a rough passage when it crosses the Atlantic.” They cite the need to be aware of nuances of England’s tangled bloodlines and some other things. I’m teetering on the fence of whether or not to jump in. I’m in the last stretch of Byatt’s “The Children’s Book,” which surpasses 600 pages. “Wolf Hall” is another 500+. Yes, what’s a girl to do!!


  2. Hmmmm. Your coverage of the book awards may get me to dive into the fiction pile….even the “Wolf Hall” historical fiction genre, which will be new for me. I’m enjoying your coverage of these various awards — I never tracked these before, and it’s been fun to learn more about the contests and the entries. Thanks!


    1. Award nominees provide great reading lists, don’t they? With the NBA nominees being announced October 13, and the award on November 18, we’ll have some reading time in between.


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