James McBride Surprise Winner of National Book Awards
At an opulent dinner at Cipriani Wall Street this week, a number of interesting events took place during the 64th annual National Book Awards, not least of which was an unexpected win in the fiction category. James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird, was considered such an underdog his book wasn’t even mentioned in a field that included Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, George Suander’s short story collection Tenth of December, and Rachel Kushner’s “highly praised” The Flamethrowers.
Mr. McBride wrote the book amid personal tragedies, he said, naming the deaths of his mother and his niece, and the unraveling of his marriage. “It was always nice to have somebody whose world I could just fall into and follow him around,” he said.
George Packer won the nonfiction category for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Mary Szybist the poetry category with Incarnadine and Cynthia Kadohata won the young people’s literature category with her book The Thing About Luck. Before the main awards were given out, two lifetime achievement awards were given: one to Maya Angelou, presented by Toni Morrison, and one to E.L. Doctorow, presented by Victor Navasky, who recalled that Doctorow once said: “There is no room for a reader in your mind. You don’t think of anything but the language you’re in.”
As The Guardian reported, 2013’s awards are likely to be remembered for Doctorow’s speech, “mordant musings about how those he dryly called his fellow ‘content providers’ should square up to the challenge of the internet, ‘loomingly present in everything we do’ ”.
…the veteran novelist depicted the "virtual world" ("a companion planet in orbital swing with our own") as a thief of language, robbing us of words like web, mouse, cloud, cookie, text, platform – "a 'bookmark' is not a bookmark because an eBook is not a book". For Doctorow, the "techies" - those who have migrated to this "companion world in cyberspace" - have taken "anything and everything about us" and "broken it down into data"… "The struggle has begun," he concluded, "as to who will rule the webby other world – government data miners, or the rest of us. [Authors] will have to join that struggle. I don't have to remind us that everyone in this room is in the free speech business."
Now that’s bound to upset someone. I have to admit I’m always pleased when someone who isn’t tipped for an award wins — it just proves there’s a chance for all of us. Should Pynchon, Saunders or one of the others have won? I guess the question’s academic now beyond the wailing and gnashing of teeth which are bound to take place amongst their fans in the corners of the cyberverse
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