“It’s very hard to create something beautiful in this world,” Ethan Hawke told the nominees for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award last night, “and you all have done it, and we’re in your gratitude.” (Earlier in the ceremony, he’d joked that after actors had read excerpts from the five shortlisted books, “we’re all going to applaud for the one you like the most.”) And then, when NYPL CEO Paul LeClerc announced that the $10,000 prize, awarded annually to a fiction writer under 35, was going to Ron Currie, Jr. for God Is Dead, a collection of linked stories about what happens to the world when the titular proclamation comes true, squeals of delight arose from the Viking table.
The money’s going to take a while to arrive, though: LeClerc informed the audience that dummy checks were being handed out at the ceremony because, at last year’s party, two of the runners-up managed to lose their $1,000 consolation prizes. (This, some of the guests might have said, is what happens when you have plenty to drink and nothing to eat but mixed nuts; one publicist and I were seriously contemplating whether or not we should run across the street and bring burritos back from Chipotle.)
With the annual PEN gala and the Triangle Awards taking place the same evening, the crowd was a bit subdued, but one could still spot some major literati. Amanda Peet was one of the celebrity readers, so David Benioff was in the audience, and I took the opportunity to talk to him about City of Thieves, which I had just started reading. Given that the opening scene is narrated by a screenwriter named David who’s romantically involved with an actress, how much of the subsequent story, in which that character’s grandfather recounts his experiences during the siege of Leningrad, is true? Very little, Benioff admitted, beyond the fact that his grandparents are from there and now live in Florida—but it’s still a great literary device, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story turns out. I also caught a glimpse of essayist Sloane Crosley, who I’m told is on the library’s Young Lions Committee; I went over to ask her about that, but by the time I’d finished chatting with somebody else and turned around, she’d wandered off to another corner of the hall.