National Book Awards Finalists Reading at The New School

1. Poet Nikky Finney passionately performs. 2. The young Andrew Krivak reads from The Sojourn.

Later tonight, four winning authors will receive the National Book Award for their work of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or the sweetly-titled genre “Young People’s Literature.” For those unfamiliar with some of the twenty finalists, the New School was the host of the ultimate contemporary American literature education last night, as each of the finalists read a five-minute selection from their nominated work.

1. Thanhha Lai evokes her own childhood with Inside Out & Back Again. 2. Stylish host Tiphanie Yanique posing during intermission.

It’s rare that one gets to enjoy so many authors and styles at one time. An epic poem about Hurricane Katrina (Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split) was followed by the tale of Margaret Marcus’s conversion to Islam, during which she became Maryam Jameelah (Deborah Baker, The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism). Thanhha Lai read from her young adult book Inside Out & Back Again, which she wrote in verse form “to show what it’s like to think in Vietnamese,” while Andrew Krivak read a harrowing excerpt from The Soujourn that was tense enough for audience members to audibly gasp.

1. Mary Gabriel shows off Karl Marx and his family.

The National Book Awards faced a minor scandal in early October when their announcement of the finalists included the novel Shine by Lauren Myracle, rather than Chime by Franny Billingsley, which was actually nominated. Myrcale was briefly kept on the shortlist but eventually withdrew from the competition, although her novel was a noteworthy inclusion for its depiction of the difficulties gay youths face in school. The National Book Foundation has since donated $5,000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, and there was certainly no mention of the likely embarrassing goof last night.

It was an overwhelming evening to say the least — each author being a master of prose, it was hard to imagine picking out one nominee who would be more deserving than another. Not to mention, as put by the emcee, Tiphanie Yanique, “Most of us are writers and are extremely jealous of you right now,” (although her own work, How to Escape from a Leper Colony, was the recipient of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and Yanique herself was chosen as one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 writers to watch). Still, there was no sense that a competitive spirit reigned during the honoring of the finalists last night.

For a full list of nominees, please go here.

For more coverage on tonight’s awards ceremony and after-party, stay tuned to The Dish!

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–Sarah Lerner is a freelance event coordinator for the L Magazine. She contributes art and film reviews to Time Out New York.

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