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.

The Fundamentals of Plot

Saturday January 18, 2014: 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm -- Pittsfield Branch: Program Room

This event is intended for Adults and teens (grade 6 and up)

Many beginning writers are confused about plot and how to put all of their thoughts into a coherent novel. Many writing classes ignore plot altogether. But it is actually the plot—what happens next?—that keeps the pages turning.

Local science fiction writer Margaret Yang discusses how to structure a novel or shorter work; how to see the “big picture” story arc; how to start and end a story in the right place; and how to avoid common writing traps like infodumps and other dull spots.

Participants will make a five-sentence outline that will provide a blueprint for a story. Once writers understand the fundamentals of story structure, they will never again be stuck or wonder “what happens next?”

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.

NaNoWriMo 2013 has begun!

Have you always wanted to write a novel but always said “One day…”? Well this year you can make that “one day” into “right now” by participating in National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo)! Participants of NaNoWriMo attempt to write a full first draft of a novel of at least 50,000 words by midnight on November 30.

It’s only November 2, so you can still take part! To sign up and find more information, visit nanowrimo.org.

Still unsure and have some questions about the process? Check out NaNoWriMo’s FAQ page for answers.

If you have decided to join in on the fun, be sure to stop by AADL’s NaNoWriMo events, including a write-in and a presentation by D.E. Johnson.

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.

Letters about Literature National Contest

Have you ever read a book that changed you or your outlook on life? Do you ever wish that you could tell the author of that book how much they influenced you? The Library of Michigan has just announced that it is taking submissions for the statewide and national Letters about Literature contest for grades 4 through 12. Readers should write a letter to a favorite author explaining how a book changed them.

The Library of Michigan will be accepting submissions until December 10 for grades 9-12, and January 10 for grades 4-8.

To submit your letter, you will need to attach a Literature Entry Coupon, found here on the Library of Michigan website.

Want some inspiration? Check out the award-winning letters from last year’s contest and AADL's books for kids on writing.

Man Booker 2013 Shortlist has been announced

The Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary prizes for more than 40 years, has released its shortlist for 2013.

The six authors on the shortlist are notably diverse. Per the requirements of the Man Book Prize, they are all citizens of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. They range in age from 28 (Eleanor Catton to 67 (Jim Crace. Catton, who splits her time between Canada and New Zealand, has written the longest book (The Luminaries -- on order -- is 540 pages). Veteran Irish author, Colm Toibin has produced the shortest -- The Testament of Mary is just 81 pages.

The Luminaries is a mystery set in New Zealand during that country's 1866 Gold Rush.

Toibin's short powerful novel imagines Mary's struggles with faith and grief in her later years, after Jesus' death.

Other contenders are NoViolet Bulawayo whose debut novel, We Need New Names, tracks the life of a 10 year old girl from Zimbabwe who moves in with her aunt in America, swapping abject poverty for shocking excess.

Jim Grace is enjoying his second appearance on the Man Booker shortlist with Harvest, a tale of the unraveling of pastoral calm in a British medieval farming community whose residents battle strangers, witchcraft and each other. His first foray into Man Booker Shortlist territory was in 1998 for Quarantine (1997).

For the complete list of shortlist contenders, check here.

The winner, who will receive the £50,000 prize, will be announced on October 15th.

Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland's greatest poets, has died

Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland's most revered poets, died yesterday in Dublin.

Mr. Heaney was born in County Derry, Ireland, 1939, the eldest of nine children. His gift for poetry received increasing recognition, beginning in 1964 when The New Statesman, Britain's 100-year-old political and cultural magazine, published three of his poems.

He wrote poignantly and in equal measure of Ireland's Troubles and of his deep love of family. One of his most famous collections, (North, 1975), has poems on both topics.

He was a gifted academician, having taught at Harvard and Oxford. At the latter, his lecture series turned into the book, The Redress of Poetry in 1995. Also, that year he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

He was also a renowned essayist. One of his most well-known collection, the 1980 Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978, was a critical examination of such well-known writers, as Wordsworth, Yeats, and Sylvia Plath.

He also produced an outstanding translation of Beowulf in 1999.

In lieu of an autobiography, Heaney agreed to a series of interviews with poet Dennis O'Driscoll, his good friend. The resulting book, Stepping Stones, was published in 2008.

Two of the most moving tributes to Mr. Heaney's passing can be found here -- The Guardian and The New York Times.

Mr. Heaney, who was 74, had suffered a stroke in 2006 and had been in poor health ever since.

Elmore Leonard, crime writer extraordinaire, has died

Elmore Leonard, longtime Michigan resident who captivated his readers for years, died this morning in his beloved Detroit.

Born in New Orleans in 1925, he started out as a writer of western fiction. One of his earliest (1953) westerns, 3:10 to Yuma, was the first of many of his novels to be made into a movie. In the case of Yuma, both the 1957 original release, starring Van Heflin and Glenn Ford and the 2007 remake, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, were popular.

Once westerns reached their peak in the early 1960s, Leonard stuck with his copywriting career which had funded his writing since the 1950s. Then in 1965, his agent sold the film rights to Hombre(1961) (on order) which was released two years later, starring Paul Newman and Fredric March.

With the money from that sale, Leonard switched gears and began writing one entertaining, suspenseful crime novel after another, many of which, again, were optioned into movies. First up was The Big Bounce, 1969, which hit the the silver screen in 1969 and again with the remake in 2004.

Get Shorty, the movie (John Travolta and Rene Russo, 1995), was based on his 1990 novel by the same name.

In all, more than two dozen Elmore Leonard novels got the Hollywood treatment.

Critics and fans adored his books, marveling at his gift for dialog and spare storytelling. On July 16, 2001, Leonard wrote an article for the New York Times. In WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle, he laid out his ten rules for writing which have become revered guidelines ever since.

Elmore Leonard was the recipient of multiple awards, including a couple of Edgars, a Peabody, and the Owen Wister Award.In addition he had honorary PhDs from The University of Michigan, Florida Atlantic University and University of Detroit Mercy.

Mr, Leonard, who had suffered a stroke on July 29th of this year, was 87 years old.

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