THE BIG LITERARY AWARDS: Who are these finalists?

By Carole Reedy

Stunned and surprise were the first feelings I had after reading the list of novels that are short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award this year. I didn’t recognize one name. At first I thought ‘Mmmmm, a bunch of young whippersnappers.’ But, no, to my surprise most are middle-aged with a cache of published books to their credit.

We may have a taste of just who they are because earlier this year another unknown, Lisa McInerney, won two big literary awards for her The Glorious Heresies, a novel that got rave reviews from the prestigious newspaper The Guardian, as well as other critics.

Here are the short lists for these two prizes: The National Book Award winner will be announced on November 16. The Man Booker prize was awarded on October 25, and went to Paul Beatty for The Sellout.

Finalists for National Book Award Fiction:

  • The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder
  • News of the World by Paulette Jiles
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Man Booker Prize Finalists

  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • All That Man Is by David Szalay
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

So, after researching a bit, I found out more about this list of unknown-to-me but-obviously-dedicated writers. They are novelists, short-story writers, memoirists, playwrights, poets, authors of children’s books, men and women equally. Some, such as Deborah Levy, appear to write in all genres, others just in one: the novel. One sings in a choir and manages a small ranch in Texas, another is an e-book pioneer and a contributor the prestigious McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.

The most impressive writing career seems to be that of 47-year-old Colson Whitehead. He has published five novels as well as a commentary on life in Manhattan.   A graduate of Harvard University, Whitehead went on to write for The Village Voice and to teach at Princeton University, among several other colleges. He writes a column on language for The New York Times. The Underground Railroad was named by President Obama as one of five books on his summer vacation reading list. Whitehead has won and been a finalist for many literary awards including the Pulitzer, Los Angeles Times and PEN/Faulkner awards. In 2002, he was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship.

Another of these, David Szalay, writer of All That Man Is, is the focus of one of those delightfully long book reviews by James Woods in the October 10, 2016, issue of The New Yorker magazine. Woods says ‘ “All that Man Is” takes the novel from and shakes out of it a few essential seeds. It tells not one long story by nine shortish tales.’ Woods concludes by saying ‘After several hundred pages of great brilliance and brutal simplicity, here at last is a deeper picture of all that man is, or all that he might be.’   I can’t think of a higher compliment to a writer.

The biggest honor of the year: By this time everyone knows that Bob Dylan won the NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE 2016. We baby boomers are thrilled, having known for years the poetry of Dylan. For those who have their doubts, here is an excerpt from The Economist that addresses just that:

‘Giving a prize that is usually reserved for writers of literature to a world-renowned musician might seem as daft and gimmicky as awarding Barack Obama the Nobel Peace prize less than a year into his presidency. But not all past recipients of the literary award have been famed for writing novels, plays or poems. Winston Churchill collected it in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values. Philosophers Bertrand Russell and Henri Bergson are both on the list of laureates. Indeed, Mr Dylan isn’t even the first songwriter to win. Rabindranath Tagore, whose creative output included thousands of Bengali songs, was chosen in 1913 for his “sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse.”’

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