I was lucky enough to attend last Wednesday's National Book Critics Circle Finalists’ Reading. Held at The New School’s Tishman Auditorium, free and open to the public, the true intrigue of the night was how the hell they were going to have twenty finalists read without us all killing ourselves or each other. As it turned out, the answer was quite simple: three minute time restraints.
The award ceremony itself was held Thursday, so the winners have been announced, the National Book Critics Circle failing, inevitably, to chose who I considered to be the winners. (Although I don't have a great history for picking winners.) I was, however, duly impressed by a number of finalists who read that night, in addition to not even killing myself. Turns out, having twenty readers read for three minutes, from works in six different categories, is actually kind of great.
John Jeremiah Sullivan (a finalist in nonfiction) has gotten some press for his collection of essays, Pulphead, but I didn’t expect to be reading 217 pages of it in one sitting this afternoon. He was the first reader of the evening and it was a fantastic start. I sat up straighter listening to his prose. I’m only taking a break from it to write this, which I do so reluctantly, because I’d like to go back to reading Pulphead.
My favorite in the criticism category was Dubravka Ugresic, who is Croatian and therefore my automatic favorite because I love all Eastern Europeans and Russians and Polacks—really anyone remotely Slavic. I concede to them all authority in terms of the truth about the human soul. This woman was talking about masking death with karaoke. Winner.
My impression of biography was that I didn’t think it was all that kosher to claim an omniscient narrator as a biographer, but I guess biographers just go ahead and say their subject’s thoughts and feelings all the time.
Autobiography was great: Luis J. Rodriguez got up and read for three minutes about his failing, pedophile father, and then Deb Olin Unferthhad to get up on stage right after him and be funny—and she did it!
I can’t talk about the poetry or fiction finalists because I am very personal friends with the clear winners in those—more important—categories.
The best prize that I took home that evening (besides my friend leaving behind his copy of Pulphead at the bar, thereby allowing me to take it home and spend my whole day reading it) was hearing so many different kinds of writing all in one place, all being celebrated. Yes, three minute intervals, but everyone. Even biography.
images: iopoetry.org and danaspiotta.com