We’re a little late on this news, dear readers, for which please accept our humble apologies. However, we are still thrilled and delighted to offer some big Free For All congratulations to David Grossman and Jessica Cohen for the novel A Horse Walks Into a Bar!
Description: The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling before their eyes as a matter of choice. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell.
Dovale Gee, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.
The Guardian quoted the chair of judges of the award, who said of Grossman’s work:
“David Grossman has attempted an ambitious high-wire act of a novel, and he’s pulled it off spectacularly…A Horse Walks into a Barshines a spotlight on the effects of grief, without any hint of sentimentality. The central character is challenging and flawed, but completely compelling. We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”
Grossman shares the award with his translator, Jessica Cohen. The New York Times did an interview with Cohen and Grossman just after the prize was announced at the V&A Museum in London, and discussed the process of finding a translator, and the incredibly laborious, loving effort that goes into translating a work–and often, the un-translatable nature of humor:
“A Horse Walks Into a Bar” obviously raises a particular question of how to translate jokes. Are there any examples of jokes you weren’t able to translate?
COHEN There were a few examples of jokes — not so much because of pacing or sound but because of cultural knowledge a non-Israeli reader wouldn’t have — that just weren’t going to work in English. Obviously if you have to explain something, it’s not funny. There were some cases like that where I managed to come up with a kind of equivalent. Some things we just had to drop.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden today announced the appointment of Tracy K. Smith as the Library’s 22nd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, for 2017-2018. Smith will take up her duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary season in September with a reading of her work at the Coolidge Auditorium.
Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a professor at Princeton University, succeeds Juan Felipe Herrera as Poet Laureate.
“It gives me great pleasure to appoint Tracy K. Smith, a poet of searching,” Hayden said. “Her work travels the world and takes on its voices; brings history and memory to life; calls on the power of literature as well as science, religion and pop culture. With directness and deftness, she contends with the heavens or plumbs our inner depths—all to better understand what makes us most human.”
“I am profoundly honored,” Smith said. “As someone who has been sustained by poems and poets, I understand the powerful and necessary role poetry can play in sustaining a rich inner life and fostering a mindful, empathic and resourceful culture. I am eager to share the good news of poetry with readers and future readers across this marvelously diverse country.”
Smith joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Juan Felipe Herrera, Charles Wright, Natasha Trethewey, Philip Levine, W.S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass and Rita Dove.
The new Poet Laureate is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars (2011), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Duende (2007), winner of the 2006 James Laughlin Award and the 2008 Essence Literary Award; and The Body’s Question (2003), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Smith is also the author of a memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in nonfiction and selected as a notable book by the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1972, and raised in Fairfield, California, Tracy K. Smith earned a B.A. in English and American literature and Afro-American studies from Harvard University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University. From 1997 to 1999, she was a Stegner Fellow in poetry at Stanford University. Smith has taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, at the University of Pittsburgh and at Columbia University. She is currently the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.
Background of the Laureateship
The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1937, when Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library. Since then, many of the nation’s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry—a position which the law states “is equivalent to that of Poet Laureate of the United States.”
During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, who opens the literary season in the fall and closes it in the spring. In recent years, Laureates have initiated poetry projects that broaden the audiences for poetry.
Hey there! If you’re one of our UK or Northern Irish readers, stop reading and go vote! If you’re in the US, and would like a distraction from…well, mostly everything, then we have an important announcement for you:
Naomi Alderman’s The Power has won the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction!
Alderman’s book is also the first science fiction work to win the prize, which is a huge win for genre fans (like me…and you, I’m sure). Alderman’s win comes just over a decade after her debut novel Disobedience, won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers.
Tessa Ross, 2017 Chair of Judges, said: “The judges and I were thrilled to make this decision. We debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.”
The novel has been described as feminist science fiction, and asks the question what is power: who has it, how do you get it, and what does it do when you have it? And, when you have power, how long before power corrupts you? It follows four main characters: Roxy, the daughter of a London crime lord; Tunde, a journalism student in Lagos; Allie, from the southern states of the US and Margo, a low-level politician. They all feature in a combination of page-turning thriller and thought experiment that attacks some of the biggest issues of our times, including religion, gender politics and censorship.
And if this sounds a bit like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s some good reasons for that; Margaret Atwood actually took Alderman under her wing when her career was just beginning, and the two remain close friends. So those of you currently reading or watching The Handmaid’s Tale, be sure to add this one to your list!
Unfortunately, Alderman’s super-sensational book won’t be released in the US until October of this year, but you can bet we’ll be making a big deal about it when it does! Here’s the cover image to whet your appetite:
This here is a two-part blog post, dear readers, because awards season is in full swing, and in order to bring you all the late-breaking news, we need to conserve space. So, firstly, we’d like to congratulate David France’s insider account of the AIDS epidemic, How To Survive A Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed AIDS, for being the unanimous winner of this year’s Green Carnation Prize!
Chair of judges and internationally acclaimed author John Boyne said: ‘In this time of renewed activism in an increasingly uncertain world, France’s definitive account of the AIDS crisis and the activists who changed the fate of so many lives, seems vital and important to inspire everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. We couldn’t be prouder to choose this book as the rightful winner.’
This past weekend, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America held their annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and announced the winners of the Nebula Awards.
The Nebulas were first handed out in 1966, as a response to the Edgar Awards (which celebrated the best in the mystery genre). They are selected by, and voted on, by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are those who say that the Nebula is a more discriminating (and, thus, discriminatory) award, as it is selected by other writers, who focus (allegedly) on artistry and composition over the plot elements, pacing, and surprises that might attract a reader. On the other hand, because the Nebula voting is so limited, it also means that they have avoided the kind of scandal that hit the Hugos (see our discussion of Puppies from last week). Thus, while most agree that the Hugo is the more well-recognized of the science fiction awards, the Nebula is a highly–prized sign of recognition from the industry, and from one’s peers.
The award celebration itself sounds like a ridiculous amount of fun, not in the least because of the event’s toast master. As report by The Verge:
The event’s toastmaster was Astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who spent 141 days on the International Space Station as part of the Expedition 44 and Expedition 45 missions, where he served as a flight engineer and mission specialist. You might remember him as one of the astronauts who sampled the first station-grown lettuce and took part in an EVA to upgrade the station. He spoke about how NASA was turning science fiction into science fact, and that as a science fiction fan, it was a pleasure to meet some of his heroes who wrote the stories he grew up with. “I am here today because of science fiction,” he said, “my path to space was paved with books.”
I swoon. I also love knowing that science fiction inspired a real live person to imagine impossible things and to go chasing after them. Let that be your inspiration today, while you head down to the Library to check out these terrific, award-winning books!
The nominations for the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced in April, dear readers, and anticipation is steadily building over which novels will win.
The Hugo Award is the the longest running prize for science fiction or fantasy works, having been established in 1953. Up until 1992, the award was known simply as the Science Fiction Achievement Awards, but was subsequently named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. Gernsbackwas also responsible for creating the idea of a ‘fandom’. When readers wrote into Amazing Stories, their addresses were published along with their letters. As a result readers began to become aware of themselves as fans, and to recognize their collective identity as devotees of the science fiction genre–not bad for 1926.
But “fandom” has its downsides, as well, as few institutions know this better than the Hugo. See, the Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, with attendees providing nominees, and then the whole group voting in a runoff vote with five nominees per category (unless there is a tie). For each category of Hugo, the voter may rank “No Award” as one of their choices. Voters are instructed that they should do so if they feel that none of the nominees are worthy of the award, or if they feel the category should be abolished entirely.
Anyway, back in 2013, author Larry Correia began speaking with other sci-fi writers (all of whom had been nominated for Hugos, but hadn’t won), and saying wouldn’t it be great if Correia’s novels were nominated for the Hugo Award in order to “poke the establishment in the eye” by nominating “unabashed pulp action that isn’t heavy handed message fic[tion]”. That led to the beginning of a not-so-covert voting bloc that attempted to get Correia’s work Monster Hunter Legion nominated. The bloc called themselves the “Sad Puppies” after a commercial for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal, showing, you guessed it, Sad Puppies, after a blog comment that equated puppy sadness with “boring message-fic winning awards”. And just so we’re clear here, Correia explained what he meant by “boring message-fic winning awards” in an interview with Wired:
He felt that the Hugos had become overly dominated by what he and others call “Social Justice Warriors,” who value politics over plot development. Particular targets of Puppy derision include two 2014 Hugo winners: John Chu’s short story, “The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere,” in which a gay man decides to come out to his traditional Chinese family after the world is beset by a new phenomenon: whenever a person lies, water inexplicably falls on them; and Ann Leckie’s debut novel Ancillary Justice, whose protagonists do not see gender.
The movement was taken over in 2015 by Brad Torgerson, who explained, in the same Wired interview about
“…what he called “the cognitive dissonance of people saying, ‘No, the Hugos are about quality,’ and then at the same time they’re like: ‘Ooh, we can vote for this author because they’re gay, or for this story because it’s got gay characters,’ or, ‘Ooh, we’re going to vote for this author because they’re not white.’ As soon as that becomes the criteria, well, quality goes out the window.”
So the Sad Puppies coordinated, and tried to influence the Hugo nominations by presenting a whole slate of books en masse. They weren’t terribly successful. Seven of the twelve 2014 nominees made it to the final ballot, one nominee each in seven categories, including Correia’s Warbound.
Then, in 2015, the “Rabid Puppies” emerged. And this where things went from generally xenophobic and unwelcoming to flat out virulence. The “Rabid Puppies”, were led by a man named Theodore Beale, but who goes by the name Vox Day, which is a bad attempt as “Vox Dei”, or “Voice of God”. Day is the only person to have been kicked out of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in its nearly fifty year history for horrid, racist remarks he made, and posted, directed at N.K. Jemisin (you are welcome to look them up yourself, should you wish). He delights in being known as “the most despised man in science fiction”. Anyways, in both 2015 and 2016, Beale published a slate of nominees, mostly conservative writers and people from his own publishing house, and told his followers to vote them. In 2016, they nabbed over 60 nominations, with four categories dominated by Beale’s picks.
And authors responded. In 2015, “No Award” was given in five categories, meaning that a majority of voters decided that not giving out an award was better than awarding a Puppy pick. Some categories did award Hugo’s to authors that Puppies had selected, ut they were authors like Neil Gaiman, who was popular enough to win anyway. In 2016, a number of authors declined their nominations, including Brian Sanderson who wrote a blog post regarding the issue. In part, Sanderson said:
I didn’t like the way many of the Puppies talked. They could be belligerent and argumentative, using tactics that felt more likely to silence opposition instead of provoke discussion. In addition, they associated with people even worse…Some leaders in the movement verbally attacked people I respect and love…These awards are supposed to be about the best of sf/f. We are not supposed to vote or nominate simply for our favorite writers, nor choose things just because they advance our viewpoint. (Though things we nominate and vote for can indeed do both things.) We are to examine pieces outside of authorship and pick ones that represent the best of the community…I felt that the slate the Puppies were advocating was dangerous for the award, and against its spirit.
Connie Willis pulled out of presenting a prize, saying her presence would “lend cover and credibility to winners who got the award through bullying and extortion”.
But instead of giving up, or giving in, the majority of science fiction writers voted…and in the end, all four categories for works of fiction went to women, three of whom were women of color, which is pretty terrific, considering that in 2007, there was only one woman nominated at all.
It’s truly disheartening that, rather than supporting the evolution of the genre, or welcoming new authors…or publicly addressing perceived issues with the nominations process in a manner that would allow debate and discussion, a small group of disaffected people would not only attack a valued and deeply significant institution, but would take such delight in it. Correia’s original argument was that the Hugo had become classist, discriminating against perceived ‘low-brow’ authors (we’re going to tackle this tomorrow), and while there is a very valid discussion to be had about class and ‘literature’, there is no call to punish other authors–to insult other authors, to attack other authors–because the market around you is changing. The fact is, it’s no longer 1926, and the kind of privileged literature that could use science fiction as a vehicle for racist, sexist, and generally xenophobic messages has long passed, and the genre has grown and developed too much to go back. And why would we want to, when there are so many other incredible worlds, fascinating ideas, and strange new futures awaiting us in the pens of new authors who are, and will continue, to bring a new worldview to the page?
After the 2016 season, the rules for the Hugo were changed in an attempt to prevent the Puppies from “breaking” the Hugo any further (George R.R. Martin claimed the award had been “broken” by Beale and his pack). And this year’s nominations seem to be pretty straightforward, with the Sad Puppies not mounting a recognizable campaign, and the Rabid Puppies succeeding in securing only one ludicrous nomination among a spectrum of titles that have been both commercially successful, and diverse in terms of content and their author’s identities.
So maybe this year, there is hope for the Hugo. I sincerely hope so. You can read the full list of nominees here.
Yesterday, the lovely committee in charge of choosing this years’ Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announced their short list. These are the six books chosen out of the sixteen originally nominated, and one of them will be this years’ Baileys Women’s Prize winner June 7, 2017.
These book represent an enormous range of settings, from 19th century Kentucky to 1980s Nigeria, and a post-WWII sanatorium, Some give voices to the politically marginalized and historically overlooked, like Thein does in her stunning Do Not Say We Having Nothing, while use their characters identities to turn the world as we know it on its ear, as Alderman does in The Power (when you have a chance to read it, you’ll understand precisely what I am saying). They also represent a great range of experience–Stay With Me is Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀’s debut novel, while Linda Grant won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2000.
“It has been a great privilege to Chair the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in a year which has proved exceptional for writing of both quality and originality,” said Tessa Ross, 2017 Chair of Judges. “It was therefore quite a challenge to whittle this fantastic longlist of 16 books down to only six… These were the six novels that stayed with all of us well beyond the final page.”
And just a reminder, the winner of the award takes home a £30,000 prize, as well as a ‘Bessie’ – a limited edition bronze statue – created by artist Grizel Niven (an extra limited edition, as this is Baileys last year sponsoring the prize).
The Free For All is delighted to congratulate the winners of the 67th annual National Book Award! See below for the titles, and click on the “About the book” links to see interviews and footage from the awards ceremony, courtesy of the National Book Foundation!
About the book: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.
About the book: Some Americans cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society,that the election of the first Black president spelled the doom of racism. In fact, racist thought is alive and well in America–more sophisticated and more insidious than ever. And as award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.
In this deeply researched and fast-moving narrative, Ibram X. Kendi chronicles the entire story of anti-Black racist ideas and their staggering power over the course of American history. Stamped from the Beginning uses the life stories of five major American intellectuals to offer a window into the contentious debates between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists. From Puritan minister Cotton Mather to Thomas Jefferson, from fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison to brilliant scholar W.E.B. Du Bois to legendary anti-prison activist Angela Davis, Kendi shows how and why some of our leading proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have challenged or helped cement racist ideas in America.
Contrary to popular conceptions, racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. Instead, they were devised and honed by some of the most brilliant minds of each era. These intellectuals used their brilliance to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial disparities in everything from wealth to health. And while racist ideas are easily produced and easily consumed, they can also be discredited. In shedding much-needed light on the murky history of racist ideas, Stamped from the Beginning offers us the tools we need to expose them–and in the process, gives us reason to hope.
About the book: Following in the path of his acclaimed collections The Book of Interfering Bodies (Nightboat, 2011) and In the Murmurs of the Rotten Carcass Economy (Nightboat, 2015), Daniel Borzutzky returns to confront the various ways nation-states and their bureaucracies absorb and destroy communities and economies. In The Performance of Becoming Human, the bay of Valparaiso merges into the western shore of Lake Michigan, where Borzutzky continues his poetic investigation into the political and economic violence shared by Chicago and Chile, two places integral to his personal formation. To become human is to navigate borders, including the fuzzy borders of institutions, the economies of privatization, overdevelopment, and underdevelopment, under which humans endure state-sanctioned and systemic abuses in cities, villages, deserts. Borzutzky, whose writing Eileen Myles has described as “violent, perverse, and tender” in its portrayal of a “kaleidoscopic journey of American horror and global horror,” adds another chapter to a growing and important compendium of work that asks what it means to a be both a unitedstatesian and a globalized subject whose body is “shared between the earth, the state, and the bank.”
About the book: By the fall of 1963, the Civil Rights Movement has penetrated deep into the American consciousness, and as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis is guiding the tip of the spear. Through relentless direct action, SNCC continues to force the nation to confront its own blatant injustice, but for every step forward, the danger grows more intense: Jim Crow strikes back through legal tricks, intimidation, violence, and death. The only hope for lasting change is to give voice to the millions of Americans silenced by voter suppression: “One Man, One Vote.”
To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative campaigns, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and an all-out battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television.
With these new struggles come new allies, new opponents, and an unpredictable new president who might be both at once. But fractures within the movement are deepening … even as 25-year-old John Lewis prepares to risk everything in a historic showdown high above the Alabama river, in a town called Selma.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass