You don’t have to spend National Readathon Day reading “Beowulf,” one of the oldest texts in the English language, but you could. And if you did, you would have a lot of company.
This Saturday (Jan. 24) has been designated National Readathon Day by the good bookish folks at the National Book Foundation, and people across the country are being challenged to read for four hours straight, from noon to 4 p.m. (Snack breaks acceptable.)
The good bookish folks at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis’ Uptown are taking this one step further: They challenge people to read in Old English for four hours. They are hosting a marathon session of “Beowulf,” the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language. The event will begin precisely at noon with these immortal words:
“Hwæt! Wé Gárdena in géardagum þéodcyninga þrym gefrúnon· hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.”
(Although chances are they will be translated into standard English, which would sound more like this: "So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness." )(Seamus Heaney translation.)
And on it will go until the poem ends right around 5 p.m.
The bookstore has lined up a host of willing readers, including novelist Peter Geye and National Book Award-winning writer Will Alexander, but a few five-minute slots remain open. Sign up at http://tinyurl.com/lbq2pb6.
Donations and pledges raised during the Readathon will go to the National Book Foundation, which supports reading, writers, and the National Book Awards.
It's not like she didn't have anything else to do. Minnesota writer Kate DiCamillo, the Library of Congress Ambassador for Young People's Literature, author of more than a dozen books (with a new novel coming out next year), and in-demand public speaker, has now signed on to be the first National Summer Reading Champion, working with the nonprofit Collaborative Summer Library Program.
DiCamillo will appear in a series of public service announcements, participate in a national media campaign, and appear at events across the country. The aim of the program is to encourage families and children to take part in library summer reading programs--and it dovetails nicely with her work as Ambassador, which is also to promote reading.
Reading--especially families reading together--has long been a passion of DiCamillo's, who grew up with a mother who read to her and indulged her love of books. (Once Kate checked a book out of the library so many times her mother finally went up the librarians and asked if they could buy it. They told her, "You know it doesn't work that way.")
DiCamillo, the author of "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Flora & Ulysses," and many other books, is one of the few writers to be honored twice with the Newbery Medal. She has also won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, the Christopher Medal, and many other honors. She lives and writes in Minneapolis and was honored last month by the Star Tribune, which named her the artist of the year.
But before we get to the finalists, here are a couple of winners:
Phil Klay, who won the National Book Award for "Redeployment," his story collection about war, was named the winner of the NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize.
Toni Morrison was honored with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, well-deserved for her lifetime of writing and teaching and mentoring.
Minnesota represents in the finalists, with Macalester College professor Marlon James in the running for a fiction award for "A Brief History of Seven Killings," and Graywolf Press poet Claudia Rankine (a finalist for a National Book Award two months ago) a finalist in two categories--unprecedented in the NBCC awards. (She is a finalist in both poetry and criticism.) Rankine will be in Minnesota next week, speaking at 7:30 p.m. at The College of St. Benedict on Jan. 29 and at the Loft Literary Center at 7 p.m. on Jan. 30.
Graywolf writers Eula Biss and Vikram Chandra are also on the list. The University of Minnesota Press is represented by "The Essential Ellen Willis." And Coffee House Press makes the list with Saeed Jones, “Prelude to Bruise."
Here's the list, with links to Star Tribune reviews when available. Winners will be announced March 12.
Blake Bailey, “The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait” (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Roz Chast, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” (Bloomsbury)
Lacy M. Johnson, “The Other Side” (Tin House)
Gary Shteyngart, “Little Failure” (Random House)
Meline Toumani, “There Was and There Was Not” (Metropolitan Books)
Ezra Greenspan, “William Wells Brown” (W.W. Norton & Co.)
S.C. Gwynne, “Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson” (Scribner)
John Lahr, “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh” (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Ian S. MacNiven, “Literchoor Is My Beat”: A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Miriam Pawel, “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez” (Bloomsbury)
Eula Biss, “On Immunity: An Inoculation” (Graywolf Press)
Vikram Chandra, “Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty” (Graywolf Press)
Claudia Rankine, “Citizen: An American Lyric” (Graywolf Press)
Lynne Tillman, “What Would Lynne Tillman Do?” (Red Lemonade)
Ellen Willis, “The Essential Ellen Willis,” edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz (University of Minnesota Press)
Rabih Alameddine, “An Unnecessary Woman” (Grove Press)
Marlon James, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (Riverhead Books)
Lily King, “Euphoria” (Atlantic Monthly Press)
Chang-rae Lee, “On Such a Full Sea” (Riverhead Books)
Marilynne Robinson, “Lila” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
David Brion Davis, “The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation” (Alfred A. Knopf)
Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, “The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book” (Pantheon)
Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” (Henry Holt & Co.)
Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press)
Hector Tobar, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Saeed Jones, “Prelude to Bruise” (Coffee House Press)
Willie Perdomo, “The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon” (Penguin Books)
Claudia Rankine, “Citizen: An American Lyric” (Graywolf Press)
Christian Wiman, “Once in the West” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Jake Adam York, “Abide” (Southern Illinois University Press)
NONA BALAKIAN CITATION FOR EXCELLENCE IN REVIEWING
The folks at Minneapolis' Graywolf Press are finding themselves in a strange position these days--defending their commitment to diversity. Publisher Fiona McCrae recently announced the 2015 lineup for fiction--a strong list by any measure, including two books by perennial favorite Per Petterson, a new book by IMPAC Dublin award-winner Kevin Barry, and a title by Jeffery Renard Allen (whose previous book for Graywolf, "Song of the Shank," was highly praised). Half of the books are in translation -- from Serbian, from Russian, from Norwegian, from Spanish.
But there are no women. No women on the fiction list. Graywolf has four women on its 2015 poetry list, and four of the seven titles on the 2015 nonfiction list are by women. But readers on Facebook responded to the fiction list with surprise and anger.
"Whoa. So many dudes. Disappointing," wrote one person.
"I can't believe you even had the balls to publish the photo of these writers," said someone else. "And you're not doing them any favors, making us notice them for their gender and not their work. Time to start boycotting Graywolf Press. What a pity."
Many posters seemed to want very much to give Graywolf the benefit of the doubt, but they were having trouble. "This REALLY bums me out, especially as a huge fan of Graywolf, my hometown press!" wrote another. "ALL men? Really? Absolutely not acceptable in 2014 or ever. This picture makes me want to cry."
All of which seems almost ironic, as Graywolf has steadily built a reputation for publishing cutting-edge, serious work by men, women, people of color, and writers in translation. Its top four titles for 2014 were all written by women--the spectacular best-selling essay collection "The Empathy Exams," by Leslie Jamison; "On Immunity," by Eula Biss, a past winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Award (who will have another nonfiction book published by Graywolf in 2015), and collections of poetry by Claudia Rankine (also a best-seller) and Fanny Howe, which were both finalists for this year's National Book Award.
McCrae said in an interview today that the men on the fiction list are, mostly, not the mainstream: two African-American writers, a gay writer, several writers in translation. "I was very conscious of how international the list was," she said. "Under two percent of literary titles published in America are in translation. There are all kinds of balances."
Looking at the books seasonally rather than genre by genre shows much better gender balance, she noted. "When we are going through the exercise of balancing the list, we’re looking at the spring list or the fall list," not just the fiction list or the poetry list. "We don’t come out with all-male or all-female lists.
"We’re always balancing, and we’ve got grant considerations, translation grants, other grants. Books don’t show up in Noah’s Ark formation." Still, she said, it won't happen again.
McCrae also responded in a Facebook post yesterday. She wrote:
Graywolf Press is committed to publishing a wide spectrum of work by a diverse group of writers. In putting together our seasonal lists we are balancing many factors, and think about diversity in terms of gender, sexual orientation, geography, cultural background, and race. We also try to make room for new writers alongside ones who are further along in their careers. Our forthcoming fiction lists have failed to balance male with female writers, and our editors will be working hard to correct this imbalance for 2016 and beyond.
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of the Star Tribune's search for our third summer serial--Megan Marsnik, St. Paul resident, English teacher at Southwest HIgh, proud daughter of the Iron Range, and a lovely, strong, lyrical writer.
Her first novel (working title: "Underground") will be published in daily installments in the Star Tribune over the course of the summer of 2015. It will also be available as an e-book.
We received more than 100 one-chapter entries, many of which were excellent, and all of which were interesting. We narrowed it down to three finalists, which we read in their entirety. Megan's book is an historical novel, set on the Iron Range during the tumultuous strike of 1916, told through the perspective of a strong young woman who emigrated to the Range from Slovenia to live with her relatives.
"In my early adulthood, I spent three summers working as a researcher at the Iron Range Research Center at Ironworld in Chisholm," Megan said. "My job was to listen to the oral histories of women in politics and transcribe them to paper. These women led amazing lives."
Her research took 18 months and took her not just back to the Range, but to Croatia and Slovenia.
It is very exciting to launch her book into the world, beginning in May.
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