Akhil Sharma has won the Folio Prize for his second novel Family Life. Judges William Fiennes (panel chair), Her Brilliant Career writer Rachel Cooke, Reluctant Fundamentalist author Mohsin Hamid, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction winner A. M. Homes and Deborah Levy chose Sharma’s book out of a shortlist that included 10:04 by Ben Lerner, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín, and Outline by Rachel Cusk.
Katharine Viner is the new Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian — the publication that helped break the story of the NSA’s citizen surveillance program by publishing leaked documents procured from Edward Snowden. She is the first woman to hold the position since the paper was founded in 1821.
Viner first began working at the publication in 1997. After serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian US, the newspaper group’s Deputy Editor, and launching its Australia edition, Viner was the frontrunner for the top post in a ballot Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian, invited full-time and freelance employees to vote in. Fellow staffer Janine Gibson who was formerly Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian US, and now runs Guardian.com, was also on the ballot, but votes put her at third place. Last year, it was revealed former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson had wanted to hire Gibson as Managing Editor of the Times, which would have put her on the same level as now-Executive Editor Dean Baquet and might have led to Abramson’s dismissal. Gibson offered Viner her sincere congratulations.
“Viner inherits the Guardian at a time when it is well-funded with a cash cushion, but still pushing to become profitable. Like many newspapers, it has faced challenges in drawing revenues from its online growth. The CEO of its US office said this week that the American outfit is on track to be profitable in three years. The company has a large cash reserve, kept by the Scott Trust, after the sale of its interest in car website AutoTrader in January for about $985 million. The paper also signed a “seven-figure” editorial partnership with Unilever.”
Viner promised that under her leadership, The Guardian “will be a home for the most ambitious journalism, ideas and events, setting the agenda and reaching out to readers all around the world.”
Barnes and Noble has introduced new shopping bags featuring first pages from classic novels to highlight the difference between shopping at a bookstore versus shopping online. “You don’t get a shopping bag when you shop online—you get a box,” the bookstore’s Creative Director Glenn Kaplan explained to Bloomberg.The bookseller is hoping customers will reuse the bags. According to the news site, “The company distributes more than 90 million bags a year, making the totes one of its most effective advertising campaigns.” In its bid to compete with Amazon, Barnes and Noble has focused on building experiences that match the e-tailer’s including creating an e-reader and selling products other than books.
Though disposable plastic bags featuring backlist titles are not likely to catch the attention of customers who shop online and read from a device precisely because they don’t want to lug an extra bag around, it’s a promising sign that the bookseller is beginning to celebrate the things that are unique to the brick and mortar experience. Here’s hoping they will continue in this vein and take advantage of their physical space to foster community and cement themselves in the mind of book lovers as the place to engage with literature and authors in a meaningful way, as Amazon has recently opened a brick and mortar location. Right now, the online retailer is targeting B&N’s lucrative college book demo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually evolve to cater to all demos.
Ten authors are in contention for the biennial Man Booker International Prize, a £60,000 award that honors a fiction writer’s body of work rather than a single novel (not to be confused with the Man Booker Prize 2015 which rewards the best book of the year). Writers from Africa make up 40% of the list with the 2015 list marking the first time Libya, Mozambique, South Africa and the Republic of Congo have been represented. This is also the first time a writer from Guadeloupe and a writer from Hungary made the list.
The winner will be announced May 19th at London’s famed Victoria and Albert Museum, chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel which is made up of Professor Marina Warner (Chair); novelist Nadeem Aslam; novelist, critic and Professor of World Literature in English at Oxford University Elleke Boehmer; Editorial Director of the New York Review Classics series Edwin Frank, and Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at SOAS, University of London, Wen-chin Ouyang.
The finalists are:
- César Aira (Argentina)
- Hoda Barakat (Lebanon)
- Maryse Condé (Guadeloupe)
- Mia Couto (Mozambique)
- Amitav Ghosh (India)
- Fanny Howe (United States of America)
- Ibrahim al-Koni (Libya)
- László Krasznahorkai (Hungary)
- Alain Mabanckou (Republic of Congo)
- Marlene van Niekerk (South Africa)
Louise O’Neill has won The Bookseller‘s first annual YA Book Prize for her debut novel Only Ever Yours. The industry publication announced the prize in 2014 in response to the dearth of literary awards recognizing Children’s literature — one of the only sectors of the publishing market that is growing. The honor comes with a £2,000 check.
Judge Rick O’Shea, at presenter at Irish broadcaster ITE, called Only Ever Yours “one of the best speculative fiction books I’ve read in years.” Rounding out the judging panel were Melissa Cox, head of range and children’s at Waterstones, World Book Day director Kirsten Grant, Foyles children’s buyer Jo-Anne Cocadiz, author Philip Reeve, vlogger Rosianna Halse Rojas, freelance journalist Imogen Russell Williams, and teen readers Erin Minogue and Rodrigo Raimundo-Ramos.
For the win, Only Ever Yours edged out A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond, Salvage by Keren David, Say Her Name by James Dawson, Lobsters by Lucy Ivison and Tom Ellen, Half Bad by Sally Green, Finding a Voice by Kim Hood, Goose by Dawn O’Porter, Trouble by Non Pratt, and The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick. The magazine, which is based in Britain, specifically sought to celebrate UK- and Ireland-based authors with the prize.
Louise Erdrich, author of 14 novels including the National Book Award-winner The Round House and National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Love Medicine, was named the recipient of the 2015 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. She’ll receive the award at the 2015 National Book Festival in Washington, DC this September.
In an email to the New York Times, Erdrich wrote of the honor, “It seems that these awards are given to a writer entirely different from the person I am — ordinary and firmly fixed… Given the life I lead, it is surprising these books got written. Maybe I owe it all to my first job — hoeing sugar beets. I stare at lines of words all day and chop out the ones that suck life from the rest of the sentence. Eventually all those rows add up.”
Since 2008, the Library of Congress has given versions of this award to fiction writers “whose body of work is distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination” and those with “strong, unique, enduring voices that, throughout long, consistently accomplished careers, have told us something about the American experience.” Past recipients include John Grisham, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, and E.L. Doctorow.
The 2015 PEN Literary Awards Longlists have been announced in nine categories, with over $70,000 in prizes to be awarded to the winners. The contenders are:
The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol
Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Ride Around Shining by Chris Leslie-Hynan
The Dog by Jack Livings
The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant
Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce
Time of the Locust by Morowa Yejidé
Moral Imagination by David Bromwich
Theater of Cruelty by Ian Buruma
Loitering by Charles D’Ambrosio
Surrendering Oz by Bonnie Friedman
The Hard Way on Purpose by David Giffels
Where Have You Been? by Michael Hofmann
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli
Limber by Angela Pelster
You Feel So Mortal by Peggy Shinner
War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz
How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Small by Catherine Musemeche, MD
The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson
Proof by Adam Rogers
The Copernicus Complex by Caleb Scharf
Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Our Declaration by Danielle Allen
All the Truth Is Out by Matt Bai
League of Denial by Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan M. Katz
This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
The Bill of the Century by Clay Risen
The Impulse Society by Paul Roberts
A Chance to Win by Jonathan Schuppe
Powers of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk
OPEN BOOK (for Writers of Color)
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
Team Seven by Marcus Burke
Every Day Is for the Thief by Teju Cole
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Streaming by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
The Fateful Apple by Venus Thrash
The City Son by Samrat Upadhyay
Updike by Adam Begley
Isabella by Kirstin Downey
Rebel Yell by S. C. Gwynne
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
John Quincy Adams by Fred Kaplan
Strange Glory by Charles Marsh
Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul
The Queen’s Bed by Anna Whitelock
Victoria by A. N. Wilson
Piero’s Light by Larry Witham
Boy on Ice by John Branch
Why Football Matters by Mark Edmundson
Black Noon by Art Garner
All Fishermen are Liars by John Gierach
Ping-Pong Diplomacy by Nicholas Griffin
Bird Dream by Matt Higgins
Thrown by Kerry Howley
Deep by James Nestor
Life Is a Wheel by Bruce Weber
POETRY IN TRANSLATION
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon, Don Mee Choi
Love Poems by Bertolt Brecht, David Constantine & Tom Kuhn
I Am the Beggar of the World by Eliza Griswold
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Juana Inés de la Cruz, Edith Grossman
Where Are the Trees Going? by Venus Khoury-Ghata, Marilyn Hacker
Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan, Pierre Joris
Guantanamo by Frank Smith, Vanessa Place
Skin by Tone Škrjanec, Matthew Rohrer & Ana Pepelnik
Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, Yvette Siegert
Autoepitaph by Reinaldo Arenas, Kelly Washbourne
PROSE IN TRANSLATION
Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz, Danuta Borchardt
The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla, Peter Bush
The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, Polly Gannon
The Master of Confessions by Thierry Cruvellier, Alex Gilly
The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura, Anna Kushner
I Ching by John Minford
Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt, Denise Newman
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, Samantha Schnee
Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye, Jordan Stump
The Woman Who Borrowed Memories by Tove Jansson, Thomas Teal & Silvester Mazzarella
Get all the details here.
As a writer from Africa, I often find myself in private and public conversation about the “responsibility” of the African writer. Why, someone will usually ask or lament at a panel discussion or book talk, should African writers be burdened with writing about specific topics when American/European/etc. writers have the freedom to write what they like? The same question comes up in reference to writers that are members of other marginalized/minority groups; and it’s a query New York Times columnist A.O. Scott gave some thought to last year in a piece about “whether and how artists should address social issues like race and class through their work.”
In the article “Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times“, Scott wrote:
Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, I’ve been waiting for “The Grapes of Wrath.” Or maybe “A Raisin in the Sun,” or “Death of a Salesman,” a Zola novel or a Woody Guthrie ballad — something that would sum up the injustices and worries of the times, and put a human face on the impersonal movements of history. The originals are all still around, available for revival and rediscovery and part of a robust artistic record of hard times past. But we are in the midst of hard times now, and it feels as if art is failing us.
To be clear, there are several contemporary artists addressing many of the major issues we face today, a few of whom Scott interviewed in a companion Q&A. The problem is many of these usually independent artists/the works of art they produce rarely have the benefit of coverage in publications like the New York Times that could help them reach larger audiences.
For example, the songwriter and vocalist Somi has a song on her acclaimed album The Lagos Music Salon called “Two Dollar Day” inspired by the Occupy Nigeria movement and the specific story of a woman she met struggling to survive on $2/day. Other tracks on the album, “Brown Round Things”, “Lady Revisited”, and “Four African Women” examine prostitution, feminism, the lengths people feel forced to go to get a green card, and the problem of skin bleaching among women in Africa. Likewise, the Grammy-winning Christian rapper Lecrae has rhymed about racial segregation and cultural superiority in the church in his song “Dirty Water”, questioned racial injustice in the U.S. in “Welcome to America”, and lamented the dearth of edifying lyrics in many of his competitors’ rap songs in “Nuthin'” on his latest album Anomaly.
Films like Dear White People have examined the issue of racial stereotypes, and books like The Reluctant Fundamentalist and We Need New Names interrogate the immigrant experience in America even as the characters in these titles wrestle with the politics of their home countries and its impact on their identity.
These are works of art that have taken on some of the challenges of our times. But Scott’s plea suggests a deep yearning for more.
Even as people look to art and artists to help them escape the grim/mundane realities of everyday life, they also depend on art(ists) to articulate it; to reflect it so clearly and honestly they can better understand it themselves. It’s important to have both, and if/when possible, art(ists) that can do both. The best escapist art cleverly articulates the state of our world and the human condition, and even the most sober reflections of the times allow the reader/viewer the distance they need to find themselves and examine the universe with an objectivity that is often outside of themselves.
In tough times, do we most need art that helps us escape the times or art that soberly reflects them? Depends on the taste of the consumer really, but for the artist that is creating, the answer is clear: Both.
Marilynne Robinson can now add a National Book Critics Circle Award to her crowded trophy table. At the NBCC Awards ceremony held on Thursday, March 12, 2015, her novel Lila beat out formidable contenders Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman, Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, Lily King’s Euphoria, and Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea to win the top fiction prize. Robinson’s first book Housekeeping, released in 1980, earned the PEN/Hemingway Award. Gilead won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished fiction, Home won the Orange (now Baileys) Prize in 2009. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded her a 2012 National Humanities Medal for “her grace and intelligence in writing.”
Also honored that evening were Roz Chast’s autobiography Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, John Lahr’s biography Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, Ellen Willis’s book of criticism The Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz,
David Brion Davis’ nonfiction title The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, and Claudia Rankine’s book of poetry Citizen: An American Lyric.
Special awards were given to Alexandra Schwartz who received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, Phil Klay, whose Redeployment won the John Leonard Prize, and Toni Morrison who was feted with the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.