National Book Award winners for 2013 have been announced

The 2013 National Book Awards, some of the most coveted of literary prizes, were announced last night at a gala event, held at New YOrk's landmark Cipriani Wall Street.

James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird, was such an underdog, he had no prepared speech when he accepted the fiction prize. In 1857, abolitionist John Brown kills a slave owner and rescues Little Onion, the narrator of McBride's brilliant novel. Complication the inexorable lead-up to the raid at Harper's Ferry is that Brown mistakenly thinks Little Onion (a.k.a Henry Shackleford) is a girl, a disguise that Little Onion struggles to maintain. Visibly shaken by the award, McBride said the writing of his book saved him during a difficult period of his life when his mother and a much-loved niece died and his marriage fell apart.

George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker captured the non-fiction category for his searing examination of the class warfare currently being waged in America. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America is based on dozens of interviews of the mainstays of economic stability have been eroded by the actions of Wall Street and the big banks.

In the poetry category, Mary Szybist won for Incarnadine. Szybist, a professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, is no stranger to the spotlight. Her first collection of poetry, Granted (2003) which was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.

Cynthia Kadohata, a 2005 Newbery Medal winner for Kira-Kira, took home the award last night in the young people's literature category for The Thing about Luck. Twelve-year-old Japanese American Summer and her little brother are left in the care of their old-school grandparents when their mother and father are called away to Japan to care for an ailing relative.

The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community was presented to Maya Angelou by her friend Toni Morrision.In presenting the award, Ms. Morrison said, "Dr. Maya Angelou, you improve our world by drawing from us, forcing from us our better selves."

Each winner received $10,000 and a statue made of bronze.

Charlotte Zolotow, children's author, has died

This has been a hard week for children's literature. First, we said goodbye to Junie B. Jones creator, Barbara Park. Now, we learn that Charlotte Zolotow, died yesterday at home in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.

Ms. Zolotow, a fearless champion of facing head-on the tough issues of childhood -- loneliness, anger, death -- began her illustrious career, as a powerful editor for children's literature at Harper and Brothers (now HarperCollins Publishers). On her rise through the ranks (she eventually became head of the publisher's children's division, a vice president, and associate publisher and, 22 years ago, she was named publisher emerita), she made the careers of M.E. Kerr, Robert Lipsyte, and Paul Zindel whose 1968 teen novel, The Pigman, a grim tale of the troubled friendship between two unloved high school students and a lonely old man. She also represented Patricia MacLachlan, author of the the children's classic, Sarah, Plain and Tall (19850, which not only won the 1986 Newbery Medal, but was also turned into the 1991 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie by the same name, starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.

Ms. Zolotow's work as an editor was a natural segue to her own writing career. She used her books to help children and their parents face emotional subjects. William's Doll (1972) tells the story of a little boy determined to play with dolls when his dad wants him to embrace basketballs and trains. Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (1962), a 1963 Caldecott Honor book, teaches the abstract idea of the power of color. Maurice Sendak illustrated this perennial favorite.

Ms. Zolotow's titles have been illustrated by some of the giants of children's illustrators. Garth Williams, Tana Hoban, and H.A. Rey are just some of the artists paired with Ms. Zolotow's books.

The death of Ms. Zolotow, who was 98, was announced by her daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon, a well-known children's author in her own right.

Doris Lessing, groundbreaking novelist, has died

Doris Lessing, whose 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, electrified young women with its forward-thinking themes, died yesterday in London.

Ms. Lessing was born in Iran in 1919 and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by a father grievously wounded in World War I and a cranky mother who chomped at the bit to escape her domestic responsibilities. Lessing attributed her mother's resentment as a key factor in shaping her own evolving discoveries of the untapped power of women at an early age. She dropped out of school at 14 and discovered writing.

Her first book, the 1950 release of The Grass Is Singing, was instantly controversial. Set in then-Rhodesia, it is the searing account of a bored white farmer's wife and her relationship with one of the farm's black slaves. Lessing's relentless examination of the endless layers of injustice that she saw everywhere was so ferocious that she was labeled a 'prohibited alien' by the governments of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia in 1956 for her inflammatory opinions.

In 1962, Lessing became one of the unwilling literary leaders of the nascent feminist movement, a label eschewed by her because she said the early feminists' embrace of all things political made them angry name-callers. The Golden Notebook tackled head-on the full menu of women's issues that to this day drive many social issues conversations. Marriage vs. freedom, motherhood vs. career, intellect vs. coy submissiveness, black vs. white. She herself lived of what she wrote, abandoning two husbands and two out of her three children when she fled to England.

Ms. Lessing also wrote two very popular series. The Children of Violence, which begins with Martha Quest (1952) and concludes seventeen years later with entry number five, The Four-Gated City (1969). During the span of this series, a teenage Martha Quest leaves her life on an African farm and flees to England, endures the horrors of World War II, and forges a new, more independent, if fraught life, in post-war London.

The second series is a five-entry science fiction work, Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979-1983).

Ms. Lessing was recipient of many awards. One of her most notable distinctions was to be named the oldest Nobel laureate for literature, receiving that honor in 2007 when she was 88 years old. She claimed it ruined her life because the demands on her time that accompanied such an honor, made it impossible for her to write.

Her last book, Alfred and Emily (2008) was a study of her parents' life, filled with speculation about what their lives would have been like if World War I had not happened.

Ms. Lessing was 94.

Barbara Park, creator of the beloved Junie B. Jones children's books, has died

Barbara Park, who combined her inner six-year-old self with a fantastic sense of humor to create the popular Junie B. Jones chapbooks, has died.

Ms. Park discovered her love of reading in high school and her writing gifts in the 70s when, as a military wife, she put to paper the antics of her young boys. Her first books were stand-alones that spoke to children about tough subjects with her uniquely child-oriented perspective, such as The Kid in the Red Jacket (1987) which covers the stress of moving and being the 'new kid' in school.

In 1992, Park found her popularity soar with the publication of the first of her 28 Junie B. Jones chapter books. First up, Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus. The eponymous five -year-old hates her first bus ride to school so much that she refuses to go home at the end of the day.

Through 16 more entries in the series, Junie B. Jones stayed in kindergarten. Finally, in 2001, Junie B. Jones graduates. In Junie B., First Grader (at Last!), Junie B. faces the twin traumas of losing her best friend to TWINS and of having to get her first pair of glasses.

The last Junie B. Jones title, #28, Junie B., First Grader: Turkeys We Have Loved and Eaten (and Other Thankful Stuff), was published last year.

Ms. Park had battled ovarian cancer for several years. She was co-founder and CEO of Sisters in Survival, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women navigate the many challenges of a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Barbara Park, a longtime resident of Scottsdale, AZ, and winner of multiple children's literature awards, was 66 years old.

G.Willow Wilson wins a 2013 World Fantasy Award

G.Willow Wilson wins a 2013 World Fantasy AwardG.Willow Wilson wins a 2013 World Fantasy Award

Seattle author G. Willow Wilson has won the 2013 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for Alif the Unseen.

Born in New Jersey, Ms. Wilson began her writing career creating comic books and graphic novels. Introduced to the Koran as a student at Boston University, she moved to Egypt, converted to Islam, married, and penned her first publication, a graphic novel titled Cairo: A Graphic Novel, an imaginative literary tale of religion, politics, and social issues.

Alif the Unseen is Ms. Wilson's first novel. In its five-star review, Library Journal wrote, "...“Imaginative storytelling . . . Wilson skillfully weaves a story linking modern-day technologies and computer languages to the folklore and religion of the Middle East."

The World Fantasy Awards have been bestowed since 1975 and are one of the most prestigious acknowledgements of speculative fiction.

For a complete list of this year's WFA winners, check here.

Marcia Wallace, a.k.a. the voice of The Simpsons' Edna Krabappel, has died

Marcia Wallace, actress in stage, screen, and TV, and most recently the voice of 4th grade teacher, Edna Krabappel, on The Simpsons, died October 25th.

Ms. Wallace's acting gifts were apparent in high school, after which she won a full-ride scholarship to the now-defunct Parsons College in Iowa. From there, she moved to New York, performing in night clubs, on Off-Broadway, and appearing dozens of times on The Merv Griffin Show.

In 1972, after Ms. Wallace had moved to California, TV producer, Grant Tinker created a role for her on the sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show. She played the sharp-tongued receptionist, Carol Kester.

In 1990, she began her most notable career as the voice of Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons, which won her an Emmy in 1992. She charmed audiences with that role until her recent bad health caused the producers to decide to 'retire' Ms. Krabappel forever.

In 2008, Ms. Wallace was in the movie, Tru Loved, in which she played a high school drama teacher who helps students start a Gay Straight Alliance Club.

In 2007, The Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, awarded Ms. Wallace their Gilda Radner Courage Award for her tireless efforts educating American men and women on the importance of early detection of breast cancer, which she herself successfully beat for more than twenty years.

Ms. Wallace, who died of complications from pneumonia, was a week shy of her 71st birthday.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #431 - "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind..." ~ William Shakespeare

When the tough reviewers at Kirkus give a debut rom-com a starred review, you take notice. When every other major professional journal follows suit, you just have to dive in. And what a lark! Can't tell you how much I enjoyed Australian Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project * * * * which won the 2012 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

A Genetics prof. at a Melbourne university, Don Tillman, socially awkward and emotionally challenged (all signs point to Asperger's, but you did not hear it from me) is looking for the perfect wife. He places his faith in the scientific instrument, a 16-page questionnaire he designs to weed out the unsuitable choices - the smokers, vegetarians, and the tardys. Barmaid Rosie Jarman is all these things but she is also beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. While Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, he is more than willing to risk it all for a wildly impossible project of her own.

"Arrestingly endearing and entirely unconventional, The Rosie Project will resonate with anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of great challenges." One reviewer suggests that it will appeal to fans of the The Big Bang Theory, and fellow Aussie Toni Jordan's Addition (2009), with its math-obsessed, quirky heroine.

In Ramsey Hootman's engaging debut Courting Greta * Samuel, a shy and withdrawn former dot.com exec. is now teaching at Healdsburg High School. Between navigating ancient equipment, lesson plans, student culture and his physical handicap, he falls hard for the school's middle-aged tomboy gym teacher Greta Cassamajor (think Sue Sylvester), and discovers that change can come from unexpected places.

"In this poignant, witty debut, Ramsey Hootman upends traditional romance tropes to weave a charming tale of perseverance, trust, and slightly conditional love." For fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and Matthew Quirk's Silver Linings Playbook.

* * * * = 4 starred reviews
* = starred review

Eleanor Catton wins the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries

Yesterday, Eleanor Catton, a New Zealander born in Canada just 28 years ago, became the youngest author to capture the coveted Man Booker Prize, Great Britain's most prestigious literary award.

Her 830-page novel, The Luminaries, is also the longest book to ever win the Booker, which is 42 years old. Set during the New Zealand gold rush in 1866, The Luminaries has been described as a brilliant reinvention of the Victorian "sensation novel." Robert MacFarlane, chairman of this year's committee, waxed eloquent about Ms. Catton's achievement: "...dazzling...luminous...extraordinarily gripping....It is a novel of astonishing control."

Ms. Catton, who studied at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, completed The Luminaries in just two years, completing it when she was 27.

Despite her youth, The Luminaries is not her first novel. That honor goes to The Rehearsal (2010), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize (renamed the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction] and the Dylan Thomas Prize.

In addition to instant fame and a full calendar of speaking engagements, Ms. Catton received the prize purse worth £50,000 ($79,854.50).

This year's Man Booker Prize recognizes another milestone. Next year the prize will be open to any novel written in English and published in Great Britain, no matter where the author was born.

Alice Munro wins the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature

In early July of this year, 82-year-old Alice Munro told the New York Times, that Dear Life: Stories (2012) was her last book. She was going to retire.

Perhaps Ms. Munro would like to rethink that decision. The Swedish Academy in Stockholm announced today that Munro, one of Canada's literary treasures, won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. This prestigious award is given for an author's life's work. In Ms. Munro's case, that includes 14 short story collections.

Ms. Munro is no stranger to notable awards. In 1980 she was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction for The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1979). Twenty-nine years later, she won the rebranded Man Booker International Prize.

The National Book Critics Circle Award for 1998 went to Ms. Munro for The Love of a Good Woman:Stories, a collection that also garnered her the first of two Giller Prizes. She won the second in 2004 for Runaway: Stories.

Ms. Munro is the first Canadian (and 14th woman) to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in its 113-year history.

One can only hope she changes her mind about that whole retirement thing.

UM Professor, Dr. Susan Murphy, is one of this year's MacArthur Foundation 'Geniuses'

This morning, Dr. Susan Murphy, the H.E. Robbins Professor of Statistics and Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Michigan, was awarded one of two dozen new MacArthur Fellows,

Dr. Murphy's current focus is on adaptive intervention, which involves developing plans to work with patients who have chronic or relapsing illnesses (such as, substance abuse or depression) where effective courses of treatment are constantly adjusted for maximum benefit.

Novelist Karen Russell is another new Fellow. The first story in her debut collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006) served as the basis for her much acclaimed first novel, Swamplandia (2011), set in the Everglades and narrated by 13-year-old Ava. Swamplandia was one of three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Alas, no award in that category was given last year, due to the lack of the minimum required number of votes.

These "Genius Awards", as they are affectionately known, come with no strings attached. The Fellows are free to spend the money as they wish. This year, the Geniuses received a raise. The formerly half-million dollar reward has been bumped to $625,000, paid out yearly for five years.

For a complete list of the MacArthur Foundation Fellows for the Class of 2013, check here.

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