book coup

National Book Awards In Portland

By Martin Patail October 13, 2011

The Oregon literary scene just got bigger. 

On Wednesday, the National Book Awards finalists were announced—for the first time ever—in front of a live audience on radio. The show was held during a special edition of OPB’s Think Out Loud program at Literary Art’s new downtown space in front of a small group of 50 readers and published writers. Host David Miller interviewed Harold Augebraum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, along with several past winners (including Charles Johnson) during the course of the hour-long show

Each year, the National Book Award is presented in four categories: Young People’s Literature, Poetry, Non-fiction and Fiction. Among this year’s finalists are Adrienne Rich, Gary D. Schmidt, and the late Manning Marable. Read a full list of finalists.

Sallie Tisdal, a judge in last year’s non-fiction category, demystified the judging process for the audience. Each year, the foundation chooses judges from among working practitioners in the genre (for instance, only poets judge other poets). Once the panel is assembled, judges meet and decide on their own judging criteria, which they often choose to keep confidential. For a large category like non-fiction, there can be anywhere from 400 to 500 submitted books. The judges then have about four months to work their way through the massive pile of material (Tisdale promised she read every single word) and whittle the list down to the top five. 

Winners in each category will be announced on November 16 in New York City. 

Whoever wins, the show was a coup for Oregon arts. Literary Arts’ executive director Andrew Proctor, noting that previous finalists had simply been released as a list, speculated that the event would help set a precedent for future announcements. 

“After this,” Proctor asked, “how can they go back to the way it was?”

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