Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates among book award finalists


Associated Press

NEW YORK — A year after highlighting lesser-known writers, the National Book Awards has gone back to the big names. Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates and 92-year-old Jacques Barzun were among the nominees announced Wednesday.

In a choice likely to be controversial, Patrick Tierney’s "Darkness in El Dorado" received a nomination. Tierney’s book alleges that U.S. scientists may have started a deadly measles epidemic among South America’s Yanomami Indians in 1968.

Some anthropologists have disputed his findings, excerpted in the Oct. 9 issue of The New Yorker. And the selection committee, chaired by biographer Patricia O’Toole, read a galley that will differ from the final version. The book was originally scheduled for release Oct. 1, but publisher W.W. Norton delayed it until November so the author could add material.

O’Toole declined to comment.

Five authors were chosen in each of four categories. While only two of last year’s finalists had even been nominated for an NBA, this year’s list includes nine past nominees and two former winners, Oates and Galway Kinnell.

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury, never nominated in a competitive category, will receive a lifetime achievement medal. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on Nov. 15, with Steve Martin returning as host.

In a year that featured acclaimed novels from Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and John Updike, the nominations for Sontag and Oates were surprising. Sontag’s "In America" and Oates’ "Blonde," each based on real-life actresses, received mixed reviews. Sontag also was criticized for the uncredited borrowing of passages from other sources.

"I don’t think judges pay much attention to reviews. I’ve been a judge for many awards and people have their own integrity and opinions," said Oates, a six-time nominee and winner in 1970 for the novel "Them."

The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani panned Oates’ "Blonde," a long psychological novel about Marilyn Monroe, calling it "the book equivalent of a tacky television mini-series." She also thought poorly of "In America," based on the 19th-century stage performer Helena Modjeska. Kakutani found it "a banal, flat-footed narrative."

Other fiction nominees include Francine Prose, for her campus satire "Blue Angel"; Charles Baxter, for "The Feast of Love," an updating of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream"; and Alan Lightman, for his novel about obsession, "The Diagnosis."

Barzun, who spent more than half a century at Columbia University, is the oldest nominee in the NBA’s 51-year history and one of the past year’s great publishing stories. His "From Dawn to Decadence," a finalist in the nonfiction category, is an 800-page survey of Western civilization that spent months on best-seller lists.

"The whole thing is a surprise, because scholarship is not exactly the thing people run after these days, or perhaps at any time," said Barzun, a San Antonio resident who will not be attending the ceremony.

Award panelists also cited three well-established poets: Kenneth Koch, Kinnell and Lucille Clifton. David Levering Lewis, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for the first volume of his biography of W.E.B. Du Bois, was a nonfiction nominee for his sequel about the civil rights pioneer.

The awards are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization. Winners receive $10,000, other finalists $1,000.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road on Sunday, April 21, 2024, in Mukilteo, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Long live the Speedway! Mukilteo’s main drag won’t be renamed

The public shot down the mayor’s idea to change the name: 77% voted ‘No’ in an online survey, with 95% opposed on Facebook.

Motorcyclist dies in crash on East Marine View Drive in Everett

Around 8 p.m. Tuesday, a motorcycle and a vehicle crashed into each other at the intersection of 11th street and East Marine View Drive.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Darrington in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Motorcyclist dies in crash on Highway 530

Jeremy Doyle, 46, was riding east near Darrington when he crashed into the side of a car that was turning left.

The Marysville School District office on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Financially insolvent’ Marysville schools to get unprecedented oversight

Superintendent Chris Reykdal will convene a first-of-its-kind Financial Oversight Committee, he wrote in a letter Tuesday.

Woodside Elementary Principal Betty Cobbs on Monday, June 17, 2024 in Bothell, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett’s first Black principal retires after 51 years

In her office, Betty Cobbs kept a black-and-white photo of herself at age 5: “I am right there, with dreams of becoming an educator.”

Junelle Lewis, right, daughter Tamara Grigsby and son Jayden Hill sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monroe’s Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 18, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
On Juneteenth: ‘We can always say that there is hope’

The Snohomish County NAACP is co-sponsoring a celebration Saturday near Snohomish, with speakers, music and food.

36 hours after final show, Everett radio host Charlye Parker, 80, dies

When Parker got into radio, she was a rarity: a woman in a DJ booth. For the past 12 years, she hosted weekend country music shows at KXA.

Dr. Scott Macfee and Dr. Daniel Goodman outside of the Community Health Center on Wednesday, June 12, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett CHC doctors, feeling like ‘commodities,’ speak up on ailing system

At the Community Health Center of Snohomish County, doctors say they feel like “rats getting off a sinking ship.” They want it to get better.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Man charged with shooting at ex-girlfriend, child in Mountlake Terrace

The man, 21, showed up to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and opened fire through the door, new court records say.

People walk along Olympic Avenue past Lifeway Cafe and Olympic Theater that currently hosts Lifeway Church on Friday, July 7, 2023 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington churches waged covert ‘battle’ against Pride event, records show

Sermons, emails and interviews reveal how an LGBTQ+ nonprofit became the target of a covert campaign by local evangelical leaders.

Drive-in movies are coming to the north Island. (Port of Everett image)
Where to catch outdoor movies this summer in Snohomish County

Bring a chair, blanket and the kids for a cinema night under the stars with your favorite movies, including “Barbie” and “Trolls.”

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Monroe in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Roundabout construction may slow traffic around Monroe

A state project to put a roundabout on Highway 203 will close a heavily used intersection for days starting Friday.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.