The finalists for the National Book Awards were announced earlier this week, and, as usual, there were not many "household names" on the list. One of the great virtues of these annual citations from the National Book Foundation is their promotion of talented writers who deserve to be better known.
Jayne Anne Phillips may be the best known of the fiction nominees, with her latest novel, Lark and Termite. Also nominated were Bonnie Jo Campbell, Colum McCann, Daniyal Mueenuddin, and Marcel Theroux (yes, he's Paul's son).
Twentieth-century business tycoons are at the center of two of the Nonfiction choices: T. J. Stiles' biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Greg Grandin's book about Henry Ford's doomed utopian experiment in the Brazilian jungle. A biography of the ancient king Mithradates and two book dealing with nature round out the list.
Four of the Poetry nominees have had long and distinguished careers: Rae Armantrout, Ann Lauterbach, Carl Phillips and Keith Waldrop. The fifth, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, was nominated for just her second book, her first one appearing eight years ago.
The Young People's Literature category is a fascinating mix, reflecting the richness of this particular field of literature. Two nominated titles are biographies, one of Charles and Emma Darwin , and the other portraying Civil Rights pioneer Claudette Colvin. There are two works of prose fiction: a collection of supernatural tales and a novel dealing with the very real world of an urban high school. The fifth nominee is Stitches, a graphic novel by Caldecott Medalist David Small, who departs from his usual lighthearted projects with this account of his harrowing childhood.
A complete list of nominees -- with more about each title -- can be found here. The winners will be announced November 18.