It is always a wonderful and satisfying thing to hear that an unknown debut author has won a major prize for writing. It is not that we don't love the established writers and wish them success, but an unknown newbie rising to the top gives us hope and assurance--assurance that these competitions are fairly judged, that small independent presses are taken seriously, that the next generation of writers is as talented and accomplished (and brilliant) as the current.
And when the news that the unknown writer winning the big prize is being published in the United States by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press, well, the news is all the more welcome.
"A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing," by Irish writer Eimear McBride, was consistently rejected by mainstream publishers until last year, when it was picked up by tiny Galley Beggar Press in London. It will be published this fall by Coffee House Press.
Last week, McBride's novel won the Baileys Prize (formerly the Orange Prize); it was selected over many highly praised big novels by notable writers, including “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and “The Lowland,” by Jhumpa Lahiri, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well as the National Book Award.
“A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is the story of a young woman and her relationship with her brother, who has a brain tumor. The girl’s father abandons the family, her mother retreats into Catholicism, an uncle abuses her.
Coffee House Press publisher Chris Fischbach said McBride’s book floored him when he first read it, “not only by the powerful story, but by its urgent, assaulting syntax, which is both relentless and engrossing. By the time I finished, I was spent: artistically, emotionally, spiritually. I had never read anything like it. We are beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to publish the U.S. edition of this brilliant book.”
McBride’s writing can be difficult, at first, for the reader to penetrate; the book is written in long blocks of fragments with only sporadic punctuation. But critics have found the difficulty well worth the effort. The Star Tribune review, which will be published in September, calls the book “brave, dizzying, risk-taking fiction of the highest order.”
The Guardian called it “jaggedly uncompromising in both style and subject matter,” and Irish novelist Anne Enright called the book an “instant classic” and its author “a genius.”
McBride’s award follows a number of significant awards won recently by Coffee House Press authors, including Ron Padgett’s “Collected Poems,” which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award, and Patricia Smith’s “Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah,” which won the Wheatley Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets.
McBride’s book has also won the Goldsmiths Prize, was named Kerry Group Irish Novel of the year, and was shortlisted for the Folio Prize. The Baileys Prize carries an award of $50,000 and goes to the best novel written in English by a woman. Originally known as the Orange Prize, the award ended briefly in 2012 when Orange telecommunications ended its sponsorship. Baileys Irish Cream announced sponsorship this year.
The other finalists for this year’s Baileys Prize were “Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Undertaking,” by Audrey Magee, and “Burial Rites,” by Hannah Kent.
So many familiar titles and publishers on the list of the L.A. Times Book Award finalists--Lawrence Wright's "Going Clear," and A. Scott Berg's biography of Woodrow Wilson, and Ruth Ozeki's fine novel, "A Tale for the Time Being."
But also--tiny little Two Dollar Radio press! And Minnesota's Joyce Sidman, and UM MFA grad (and occasional Star Tribune book critic) Ethan Rutherford, and Graywolf Press, and Coffee House Press. Also (I have just learned), Anders Nilsen, a finalist in graphic novels, is back in Minneapolis after about 20 years away, and the publisher of yet another graphic novel finalist--Uncivilized Books--is also in the Twin Cities. Whew. So much to love about this long list. The winners will be announced on April 11.
Here's the full list, with links to Star Tribune reviews:
The 2013 L.A. Times Book Prize finalists:
Marie Arana, “Bolivar: American Liberator,” Simon & Schuster
A. Scott Berg, “Wilson,” G.P. Putnam's Sons
Benita Eisler, “The Red Man's Bones: George Catlin, Artist and Showman,” W. W. Norton & Co.
Edna O'Brien , “Country Girl: A Memoir,” Little, Brown & Co.
Deborah Solomon, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell,” Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Sheri Fink, “Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital,” Crown
David Finkel, “Thank You for Your Service,” Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Charlie LeDuff, “Detroit: An American Autopsy,” The Penguin Press
Barry Siegel, “Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom,” Henry Holt & Co.
Lawrence Wright, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” Knopf
Percival Everett, “Percival Everett by Virgil Russell,” Graywolf Press
Claire Messud, “The Woman Upstairs,” Knopf
Ruth Ozeki, “A Tale for the Time Being,” Viking
Susan Steinberg, “Spectacle: Stories,” Graywolf Press
Daniel Woodrell, “The Maid's Version: A Novel,” Little, Brown & Co.
The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
NoViolet Bulawayo, “We Need New Names,” Reagan Arthur Books
Jeff Jackson, “Mira Corpora,” Two Dollar Radio
Fiona McFarlane, “The Night Guest,” Faber & Faber
Jamie Quatro, “I Want to Show You More,” Grove Press
Ethan Rutherford, “The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories,” Ecco / HarperCollins
David B., “Incidents in the Night: Volume 1,” Uncivilized Books
Ben Katchor, “Hand-Drying in America: And Other Stories,” Pantheon
Ulli Lust, “Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life,” Fantagraphics
Anders Nilsen, “The End,” Fantagraphics
Joe Sacco, “The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme,” W. W. Norton & Co.
Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, “FDR and the Jews,” Belknap Press of Harvard University
Christopher Clark, “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914,” HarperCollins
Glenn Frankel, “The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend,” Bloomsbury USA
Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” Simon & Schuster
Alan Taylor, “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832,” W. W. Norton & Co.
Richard Crompton, “Hour of the Red God,” Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Robert Galbraith, “The Cuckoo's Calling,” Mulholland Books/Little, Brown & Co.
John Grisham, “Sycamore Row,” Doubleday Books
Gene Kerrigan, “The Rage,” Europa Editions
Ferdinand von Schirach, “The Collini Case,” Viking
Joshua Beckman, “The Inside of an Apple,” Wave Books
Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, “Hello, the Roses,” New Directions
Ron Padgett, “Collected Poems,” Coffee House Press
Elizabeth Robinson, “On Ghosts,” Solid Objects
Lynn Xu, “Debts & Lessons,” Omnidawn
Science & Technology
Matthew D. Lieberman, “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” Crown
Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld, “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience,” Basic Books
Virginia Morell, “Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures,” Crown
Annalee Newitz, “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction,” Doubleday Books
Alan Weisman, “Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?” Little, Brown & Co.
Young Adult Literature
Elizabeth Knox, “Mortal Fire,” Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Rainbow Rowell, “Fangirl,” St. Martin's Griffin
Joyce Sidman, “What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings,” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Jonathan Stroud, “Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase,” Disney-Hyperion
Gene Luen Yang, “Boxers & Saints,” First Second/Macmillan
Here comes round two of the National Book Award long lists, and here come more books with Minnesota connections. The long list for poetry was announced this morning, and here is Matt Rasmussen, winner of the 2012 Walt Whitman Award from the American Academy of Poets, nominated for "Black Aperture." You can't get more Minnesota than Rasmussen, who was born in International Falls, lives in Robbinsdale, and teaches at Gustavus Adolphus. His book was published by Louisiana State University Press.
Other Minnesota connections on the list: "So Recently Rent a World," by Andrei Codrescu and published by Coffee House Press. And "Incarnadine," by Mary Szybist, and published by Graywolf Press.
Yesterday's long list for young adult books included Minneapolis writers Kate DiCamillo and Anne Ursu. Tomorrow's list is nonfiction.
Here's the full long list for poetry:
"Metaphysical Dog," by Frank Bidart.
"Bury My Clothes," by Roger Bonair-Agard
"Stay, Illusion," by Lucie Brock-Broido.
"So Recently Rent a World," by Andrei Codrescu.
"Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire," by Brenda Hillman.
"The Big Smoke," by Adrian Matejka.
"American Amnesiac," by Diane Raptosh.
"Black Aperture," by Matt Rasmussen.
"Transfer of Qualities," by Martha Ronk.
"Incardine," by Mary Szybist.
And why not look forward to fall, when this summer is refusing to make an appearance? Let's skip it, then, and head right for the fall books. There's lots to look forward to, locally, with Garrison Keillor and Kevin Fenton and Kate DiCamillo and Kevin Kling and Robert Bly and ....
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are some of the books by Minnesota writers we're looking forward to. Starting with .... poetry!
"Stealing Sugar From the Castle: Selected and New Poems 1950-2013," by Robert Bly (W.W. Norton, September). A new book by Minnesota's most venerable poet is always an event.
"O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound," by Garrison Keillor. (Grove Press, October) Named, I think for this poem about, well, about taking, a, well, how can I say this, about, um, going to the .... um.... bleeding the .... um.... let's just say this particular poem is more vulgar than profound.
"Dance," by Lightsey Darst (Coffee House Press, September). Darst, currently writer-in-residence at the Walker Art Center (you can follow her blog here), won a Minnesota Book Award for her first collection, "Find the Girl."
"Leaving Rollingstone," by Kevin Fenton. (Minnesota Historical Society Press/Borealis Books, September). Fenton won the AWP award for the novel for his first book, "Merit Badges."
"Ready for Air," by Kate Hopper (University of Minnesota Press, October). A longtime writer and writing teacher, primarily about motherhood, Hopper here writes about premature motherhood.
"Prairie Sky," by W. Scott Olsen (University of Missouri Press, September). Olsen teaches at Concordia College and is the author of several books. This collection of essays is about viewing the world from the altitude of a pilot.
Mentioned before, but worth mentioning again...
"Big Little Mother," by Chris Monroe and Kevin Kling. The sequel, of sorts, to "Big Little Brother."
"The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses," by Kate DiCamillo. A blend of novel and graphic novel, it's the story of a little girl, a magic squirrel, and a broken marriage.
We'll get to fiction in another blog post..... For now, remember: Rainy weather is good reading weather.
Laird Hunt's novel, "Kind One," published last fall by Minneapolis' Coffee House Press, has won a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Hunt will be honored in September in Cleveland, Ohio, along with the four other winners--Andrew Solomon, for "Far From the Tree"; Kevin Powers for "The Yellow Birds"; Eugenia Gloria for "My Favorite Warlord"; and Wole Solyinka for "The Man Died."
The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award was established in 1935 to honor books that make important contributions to understanding racism and diversity.
This is just the latest in a string of impressive awards Coffee House has received. In April, Ben Lerner (author of "Leaving the Atocha Station") and Anne Waldman, who has published many collections of poetry with Coffee House over the years, were both named Guggenheim Fellows.
Lerner's novel was also named runner-up for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.
And, as previously reported here, "Kind One" and T. Geronimo Johnson's "Hold it 'Til it Hurts" were both finalists for the 2013 PEN/Faulkner Award.
Want to know more about these books? Here are the Strib reviews:
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