Ever heard of the novelists Savatore Scibona and Aleksandar Hemon? How about the historian Annette Gordon-Reed and the memoirist Joan Wickersham? Do I even need to ask about the poets Patricia Smith and Richard Howard?
All are finalists for the 2008 National Book Awards, the winners of which will be announced tonight. As their low profile suggests, this year’s shortlist is a quiet one www.nationalbook.org/nba2008.html.
The few stars include finalists Peter Matthiessen and Marilynne Robinson in fiction and Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust in nonfiction. Even they lack the fame of the some of the better-known winners or finalists of the past decade: Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates, E. L. Doctorow, Robert Caro, Jonathan Franzen, Susan Sontag, Sherman Alexie. This is not a complaint – I’d rather see a shortlist like this one than one that appears driven by sales figures instead of merit.
But the group raises the possibility in some circles, the best-known finalist is a children’s author: Laurie Halse Anderson, whose historical novel Chains made the shortlist in the young people’s literature category. Halse Anderson wrote the picture book Thank You Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, widely used in schools and the library equivalent of a bestseller at this time of year.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.