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April 01, 2004

NYPL Recognizes Young Literary Lion(esse)s

by Ron Hogan

Last night, I headed out to the New York Public Library for the presentation of the fourth annual Young Lions Fiction Award for a novel or collection of short stories by an author aged 35 or younger. Rick Moody started the evening off on an alarmist note, declaring that "if the censorship of literature is not de jure or statutory, it is certainly de facto," and I was so busy writing that down I missed the context of a subsequent crack about "celebrity daughters of hoteliers." He then pointed out that four of the five nominees for this year's award were women, and suggested this was all the more remarkable for the difficulties faced by women in the literary marketplace.

One of last year's co-winners, Anthony Doerr, who said that he'd been invited back to talk about what he'd done in the last year, which, he quipped, was "a very shrewd way of finding out what I'd done with the $10,000 I won." Using it for mortgage payments and countless turkey sandwiches at a nearby deli, he was able to finish a draft of his first novel over the summer, and thanked the Lions on behalf of himself and the other nominees (who received $1,000 each) for "investing in our careers when we most need it."

Bliss Broyard spoke briefly about the late Amanda Davis, whose novel Wonder When You'll Miss Me would almost certainly have been a nominee (and, in my opinion, quite likely would have won). An honorary award was created in her memory and, at the request of her surviving family, the money was given to a memorial scholarship set up in her name at Bread Loaf. With that, we were ready to hear from the five nominees.

Ellen Barkin and Ethan Hawke took turns reading passages from the five books nominated: Barkin from Susan Choi's American Woman, Maile Meloy's Liars and Saints, and Lara Vapnyar's There Are Jews in My House; Hawke from Jordan Ellenberg's The Grasshopper King (shouting out to Ellenberg for an assist on pronouncing the protagonist's last name) and Monique Truong's The Book of Salt. Which, as you might guess by my linkage, was the ultimate winner, described by the judges as "delicious in its wit [and] pungent in its cultural purpose," the taste allusions inspired by the novel's portrayal of a Vietnamese cook to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. "Well, this has been delicious torture," Truong quipped before thanking the committee for the prize, noting that this was the first time a female author had and speaking briefly about the novel as a search for an answer to questions about what home is. I caught up with her afterwards and asked if she had any plans yet for the prize. "I'm going to use it to live," she said, and spoke briefly about her current project, a "reimagining of the Southern Gothic novel."

(Read Vapnyar's short story "Mistress" and Meloy's "Native Sandstone.")


Did Moody provide an example on this "crushing of dissent" (or whatever)? Or had the jackbooted thought police already hustled him from the premises?

Posted by: bd at April 1, 2004 02:14 PM

Nothing that will come as too great a shock to regular readers of this and other bookblogs: the closing of independent bookstores, the gobbling up of small publishers by conglomerates, the dwindling space granted to reviews of literary fiction in the mainstream media, etc., etc. Not so much crushing of dissent as culture in its death throes, really, but, sure, with a bone thrown to the concurrent political hullaballoos.

Posted by: editor at April 1, 2004 02:29 PM

Hi -- just saw you in my referrer logs. The link above is to my math page: the book page, if people want to look, is here.

It was a great night!

Posted by: J. Ellenberg at April 2, 2004 02:16 PM
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