The Center for Fiction Annual Benefit & Awards Dinner

10Nov09

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The Finalists were:

Phillip Meyer, American Rust

Patrick Somerville, The Cradle

Paul Harding, Tinkers

Yiyun Li, The Vagrants

John Pipkin, Woodsburner

And the winner is:

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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

www.centerforfiction.org

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2 Responses to “The Center for Fiction Annual Benefit & Awards Dinner”

  1. 1 Jenny McPhee

    As far as I can make out, the finalists for the prize are all men…are you part of the conspiracy?

    • 2 marthamcphee

      Yiyun Li is a woman. I can’t reveal how the judging works and of course it could be illuminating to understand that etc etc. But what I can confess to is that it did NOT cross my mind that there were four men and one woman. This has caused me to think deeply about women in literature. And I realize all that I have to say will need to be much more thoughtful than a brief comment here. I would like to write a large note on this. You can help me. (And anyone reading this comment.) I want to look into female writers across time–beginning with Sappho. (Please send me ideas.) I mentioned to my reading group that we had only read one woman in the past year (Paula Fox). We read mainly classics and most of those are by men. I am wondering if that is because women aren’t carried down as much–my hunch because women certinly have been writing. In any case, I want to explore this and see. Why don’t we read Charlotte Lenox today? She was inspired by Cervantes and in turn inspired Jane Austen, was one of Austen’s favorite writers. The plots for Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey are directly taken from books by Lenox. Why don’t we read Marie Corelli? Is there good reason? Help me find the list of writers. Let’s understand why we aren’t turning to these writers when we read the “classics.” And is Mark Twain correct in what he says about Jane Austen? I don’t think so. What was it he said? He wants to dig her up from her grave and give her a speaking to. Isn’t that more of the same, a male imposed point of view? Thanks for raising the question, my brilliant sister.


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