Patience has been rewarded by National Book Award judges. Shirley Hazzard and Edward P. Jones, both of whom needed more than a decade to complete their current novels, are among this year's nominees. Other fiction finalists announced Wednesday include T. Coraghessan Boyle's Drop City and Marianne Wiggins's Evidence of Things Unseen. It was the first nomination for both writers, despite more than 20 books combined. None of the 20 finalists, five each in four separate categories, has ever received a National Book Award.
Hazzard was cited for The Great Fire, a romance set right after World War II and the author's first fiction work since the beloved The Transit of Venus, published in 1980. Jones was nominated for The Known World, a historical novel about a black slave owner and his first book since the story collection Lost in the City, an NBA finalist published in 1992. Scott Spencer, nominated for his novel A Ship Made of Paper, shares with Hazzard the rare status of being cited twice for the same book. In the early 1980s, when the awards had separate categories for hardcovers and paperbacks, Hazzard received two nominations for Transit of Venus and Spencer two for Endless Love.
This year's nonfiction nominees include Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, a best-seller set around the 1893 Chicago's World Fair, and John D'Emilio's Lost Prophet, a biography of civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. Other nonfiction finalists are Carlos Eire's Waiting for Snow in Havana, a memoir of Cuba in the 1950s; George Howe Colt's The Big House, which traces history through a family summer home; and Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History.
Announced before a live audience, the awards are patterned loosely on the Academy Awards and have been hosted since 1999 by an actual movie star, Steve Martin. But Martin declined to return this year, citing other commitments, such as promoting his own novel, The Pleasure of My Company. Mystery writer Walter Mosley will replace him. Drama won't be limited to the competitive categories. Horror writer Stephen King will receive a medal for contributions to publishing, an award given in the past to Philip Roth, Arthur Miller, and others with more literary reputations. Critic Harold Bloom has strongly criticized the choice, although most in publishing believe King's storytelling skills and history of support for other writers make him a worthy winner. King himself has attacked snobbery in the industry. A featured columnist for Entertainment Weekly, he complained recently that publishers have a weakness for the "dull 'serious fiction' " of such "overpraised" writers as Paul Auster and the late William Gaddis, a National Book Award winner. The awards are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that runs educational outreach programs. Winners receive $10,000, finalists $1,000.