NBCC autobiography nominee Alexander Masters (left) gets poetry winner Troy Jollimore to sign his copy of Jollimore’s debut collection, Tom Thompson in Purgatory, at the reception following the awards ceremony. Jollimore’s victory was perhaps the one true surprise among the evening’s winners, which even the poet himself acknowledged. “I’m stunned,” he said as he accepted the award, “and I may not be the only one.” But as a member of the poetry committee told me during the post-awards reception, it was “a clean win,” even if his out-of-nowhere arrival stunned even the judges. (And apparently, the waiter in the background, although maybe he’s just doing his best impression of a Robert Longo painting… would you believe I’ve waited years to use that joke? Yeah, I imagine you would.)
As he accepted the autobiography award for The Lost, Daniel Mendelsohn said that he was especially proud to get this prize “in an era in which anyone who owns a Dell laptop is a published critic,” while the NBCC prize comes from “people who know what they’re talking about.” Well, as one of the great electronic unwashed, to heck with you, and you’re still completely wrong about Peanuts. OK, fine, we kid because we love and all that, but perhaps the remark rankled more because of NBCC president John Freeman‘s defensive opening remarks about how “book reviews are the gateway to our culture,” aimed at establishing the continuing relevance of book reviewers in an age when bloggers are attracting more and more of the readers who do, in fact, crave good information about books and writers about which they might well like to know more. This is especially ironic, given that the NBCC board of directors now has two members, Lizzie Skurnick and Jessa Crispin, who are as “famous” if not more so for their online writing as for whatever they’ve done in print. The debate continues…
“I really thought I was writing this book for the three other people who were as weird as I was,” Julie Phillips joked as she accepted the biography award for her book about science-fiction writer Alice B. Sheldon, aka James Tiptree, Jr.. But, she added, “I’m glad she’s finally getting the recognition she deserves.” (By the way, look in the lefthand corner, and you can spot the top of fiction nominee Dave Eggers‘s head!)
Finally, here’s a snapshot of self-described “luckiest girl in the world” Kiran Desai, who snagged the fiction category for The Inheritance of Loss. Does that make her the first writer to win both the NBCC and the Man Booker prize? To be honest, I’m too pinot-addled to bother looking it up, so let’s say she is.