Friday, November 21, 2008

Change We Can Believe In

Three of the finalists for the National Book Award’s prize for fiction had not yet been born when winner Peter Matthiessen began publishing. Matthiessen, 81, received the award for a revised edition of his 1990’s trilogy, Shadow Country. Matthiessen previously won a National Book Award in the nonfiction category 29 years ago.

Matthiessen is known among poets as one of the founders of The Paris Review, a journal that has been sclerotic and unreadable for decades. Mark Doty, an affable quietist who writes as if the Review has yet to be invented, took the prize for poetry.

Honorary awards were given to Maxine Hong Kingston and Grove Press founder Barney Rossett. In addition to bringing out books by William Burroughs, Charles Olson, Frank O’Hara & other post avants who wrote as though the Quietist world was a Victorian relic, Rossett published Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry in 1960. Not quite half a century ago.

As if to stress the award’s independence from the trade book industry, this year’s ceremonies were held on Wall Street.