The Finalists were:
Paul Harding, Tinkers
And the winner is:
Last year’s winner, Hannah Tinti, was the chair of the committee of judges and gave a thoughtful speech about why each book was selected and how each deserved to win. They were all lovely debuts. As one of the five judges, I enjoyed the experience completely. There were many terrific first novels and reading so many of them across the summer, I was reminded of how lonely and also hopeful those days of writing a first book were. It seemed this year so many of the debuts had multiple points of view and could move around and across great swathes of time with ease. Woodsburner is a fiction inspired by a real event: a forest fire accidentally started by Henry David Thoreau in 1844. Pipkin crawls inside this dramatic day and brings it, vitally, to the page.
The party was a good one. My favorite surprise was Chuck Palahniuk, a figure so iconic for my students. In his buffalo leather pants and with his terrific sense of humor, he presented the Maxwell Perkins Award to Gerald Howard. He made fun of himself, his editor with a nerdy, boyish good sense of fun. My students love him because through Fight Club he ignited their desire to read. As Palahniuk said last night, “Because of Gerry there are a lot more readers out there.”
Another fun surprise was being seated next to the lovely Brettne Bloom, the agent for Patrick Somerville. As it happens, she was a student of my sister Sarah’s at Emory University, studying art history with her. Sarah gave Brettne two pieces of advice some ten years ago: 1) Always read The New Yorker if you want to learn how to write well. Read it every week; 2) Go into publishing. I am stumped by the second piece of advice — Sarah’s an art historian, what does she know about publishing and recommending it as a career path? — but Brettne took the tips to heart and has done both.
I’ve come to The Center for Fiction only recently, through my friend Rene Steinke. It’s a wonderful organization, directed by Noreen Tomassi. I can’t think of many places that support fiction writers of all levels and exclusively. Fiction writers are fortunate to have it. Check it out on-line and visit it when you’re in New York:
17 East 47th Street, New York, New York 10017