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McCann, Waldrop win National Book Awards

Irish-born novelist Colum McCann, who dazzled attendees of  the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference in Buffalo this past June at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Hyatt Regency Hotel with readings from his soon-to-be released novel Let the Great World Spin (Random House) was one of the big winners Wednesday night at the 60th annual National Book Foundation's National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.
McCann's lyric urban epic of a novel--set in August, 1974 in Lower Manhattan as tightrope walker Philippe Petit soars above the city on a cable strung between the still unfinished World Trade Center Twin Towers while below the lives of ten New York City residents of widely disparate backgrounds and life trajectories  intersect--was widely thought to be the presumptive favorite among a very competitive field of nominees in the Fiction category that also included Bonnie Jo Campbell for American Salvage (Wayne State University Press), Daniyal Mueenuddin for  In Other Rooms, Other Wonders (W. W. Norton & Co.),  Jayne Anne Phillips for Lark and Termite (Alfred A. Knopf), and Marcel Theroux for Far North (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
There was good news as well for another frequent visitor to Buffalo over the years.  Poet/publisher Keith Waldrop, who along with his wife the estimable poet Rosmarie Waldrop edits the venerable Burning Deck Press--one of the literary world's leading independent publishers of experimental prose and poetry--won the 2009 National Book Award in Poetry for his collage-based Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy published by the University of California.  Curiously, it was just the second NBA nomination of Waldrop's long and distinguished career of writing, translating, and teaching at Brown University.  His first nomination was for his debut collection A Windmill Near Calvary (University of Michigan Press, 1968). 
Among the other nominees in the Poetry category were Rae Armantrout, for Versed (Wesleyan University Press),  Ann Lauterbach for Or to Begin Again (Penguin Books), Carl Phillips for Speak Low (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon for Open Interval (University of Pittsburgh Press).
Winners in the other major categories included T. J. Stiles for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf) in the Nonfiction category, and Phillip Hoose for Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) in the Young People's Literature category.
The National Book Foundation also presented a lifetime achievement award to Gore Vidal for his Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and its Literarian Award to writer, editor and McSweeney's founder and publisher Dave Eggers for his outstanding service to the American literary community, including his work in co-founding 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for kids ages 6-18 yrs. in San Francisco.  The project has since grown into seven chapters across the country: Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Boston, all under the auspices of the nonprofit organization 826 National.

--R.D. Pohl


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