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Posts Tagged ‘John Leonard’

New John Leonard Award for an Author’s First Book

The National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) has created the John Leonard Award, a literary prize celebrating one author’s first book–named after the late critic and NBCC founding member, John Leonard.

The first winner will be revealed at the NBCC’s 2014 awards ceremony. One author will be selected from a broad range of genres: fiction, nonfiction, biography, criticism, poetry, and autobiography. Here’s more about the award:

In naming the award, which will be selected directly by a vote of the NBCC’s nearly 500 members nationwide, the National Book Critics Circle honors the legacy of critic John Leonard, a former editor of the New York Times Book Review. A founding member of the NBCC, Leonard (1939–2008) is remembered not only for his voracious and enthusiastic criticism of books, film, and television but also for his life-long encouragement of younger critics and his unwavering attention to debut writers. One of the first American critics to write on Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Leonard shared his enthusiasms with a wide reading audience in a host of newspapers and magazines including New York, the Nation and Harper’s.

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BEA Day Two: Ethics in Book Reviewing

Immediately after moderating the blog panel, Bud Parr took out his video camera and taped the panel proceedings, which he’s edited into the above highlight show. And considering the star wattage assembled for the panel, highlights abounded.

Moderator and Philly Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano began by rattling off all 37 questions asked as part of the National Book Critics Circle‘s revised survey on book reviewing ethics, commenting with tongue in cheek that the only question all 356 responders agreed on was that they were NBCC members. Then each panelist spoke for about five minutes or so on the nature of ethics and starting with Christopher Hitchens, the consensus was that if it’s not okay to review a friend’s work, it shouldn’t necessarily be taboo, either. “Who knows a writer’s body of work better,” said former NYTBR editor John Leonard of what he termed a “friend of a mind”, adding that such questions are “small potatoes compared to the corruption of a culture at large.”

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When a Literary Event Hits A Bit Too Close

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Photo credit: Leslie Shipman, the National Book Foundation

If you were in the audience at the Morgan Library yesterday evening and noticed an almost unshakable, unstoppable gale of laughter, well, that was me. I knew that any event featuring National Book Award winner Richard Powers (above, with your humble GalleyCat correspondent) and literary critic John Leonard would be amazing stuff, and the informal conversation comprising the second half of the evening was chock full of observations about the state of criticism, blogging’s place in the literary world, cognitive dissonance, Kurt Vonnegut‘s death, the need for endings and narrative and when the questions went to the audience, why Powers’s piece on using voice recognition software to write his novels has garnered him the most responses of anything he’s written.

But it was the first half, featuring the New York premiere of a new piece by Powers (the world premiere, so to speak, happened late last month at Penn State) that caught my attention immediately and held the audience pretty much in thrall the rest of the way. “The Moving Finger” recounts the curious adventures of a Powers-like narrator as he stumbles across the seemingly anonymous blog Speculum Mundi, whose Latin-named proprietor rants in “Camille Paglia meets NOVA” style about neuroscience, the relevance of literature and other topics to make it “12 percent more accurate than the leading literary blogs.” Slowly, Powers takes his narrator through startling cognitive changes that have him converge and diverge with the blogger in startling ways.

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And the NBCC Awards Go To…

While NBCC Board member Rebecca Skloot liveblogged the awards, Ron and I sat through a somewhat speedy ceremony emceed by president John Freeman and highlighted by Mary Gordon‘s glowing retrospective and tribute (accompanied by retro Jill Krementz photography) to Sandrof winner John Leonard, followed by Leonard’s own words, a speech so filled with mirth, self-deprecation and reflections on present and past reviewing that I hope the transcript is made publicly available at some point. Nona Balakian winner Steven G. Kellman was a quote-a-minute, namechecking the gamut from H.L. Mencken (who had unkind words about criticism and even more scathing words about poetry – partly because of a volume he himself had written and then done everything in his power to squelch) to Lily Tomlin (“we’re all in this together – alone,” as applied to book critics, who Kellman quipped “are the only critics who can do their job in their underwear.”)

Then came the awards:

Criticism: Lawrence Weschler, EVERYTHING THAT RISES: A BOOK OF CONVERGENCES (McSweeney’s)
Poetry: Troy Jollimore, TOM THOMSON IN PURGATORY (Margie/Intuit House)
Non-Fiction: Simon Schama, ROUGH CROSSINGS: BRITAIN, SLAVES AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (Ecco)
Biography: Julie Phillips
, JAMES TIPTREE, JR.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE B. SHELDON (St. Martin’s Press)
Autobiography: Daniel Mendelsohn, THE LOST (HarperCollins)
Fiction: Kiran Desai, THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS (Atlantic Monthly Press)

It’s an award winner list of some surprise – Jollimore’s win especially surprised the poetry faithful in the audience – and some that might have seemed like a surprise, like Desai, but on further reflection are just about right. Ron’s got more about notable quotes and the afterparty, but I’m especially happy to have chatted with John Leonard about his new prize, his belief that literary blogs are “where the passion is” and finding good books to read that might be off most people’s radar. It doesn’t get much better than that.