Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You're Nominated for the National Book Award. No, You're Not. Yes, You Are. Will You Please Leave Quietly?


So, maybe you've heard the story -- the National Book Foundation announces its nominees for Young Adult novel, and accidentally (because of some internal error), they picked Lauren Myracle's SHINE when they actually meant Fanny Billingsley's CHIME. CHIME was later added as a sixth nominee.

According to Libba Bray's blog (she has a strong connection to Lauren -- her husband represents Lauren's work; note to parents, the blog contains strong language), there was some torturous back and forth. Lauren was told her book was good enough to be nominated and then not and then finally she was called up by the NBF and asked to withdraw her book from consideration "to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work."

That's an awful thing to do to a writer. Worse, to my mind, because of the subject of Myracle's novel -- a hate crime committed against a gay teenager-- asking Myracle to withdraw her novel is like asking her to leave a party which she was accidentally invited to enter -- and to leave silently. Asking any writer to be silent is reckless, but this is a subject that has finally been getting attention recently, in the media, and needs to be given more voice -- not less. Silence on this subject is deadly.

And though I agree that it is the National Book Foundation's job to anoint books that are truly excellent, they look foolish -- not just because they can't clearly enunciate titles and/or cross-check author names -- but because they're touting their own integrity at the same time.

Who has integrity? Well, I agree with Libba Bray. Myracle does. In her statement, she says, "I was also deeply moved that in recognizing Shine, the NBF was giving voice to the thousands of disenfranchised youth in America—particularly gay youth—who face massive discrimination and intimidation every day. So that something positive may come of their error, I have strongly suggested that the NBF donate to the Matthew Shepard Foundation [a charity focused on respecting human dignity among young people].”

It reminds me a little of the rumored false-win for best supporting actress by Marisa Tomei -- one version of the full story here. The rumors hurt Tomei's career; possibly the win itself hurt her career. (She's gone on, to my mind, to become a wonderfully complex actress who's played in some powerful -- though lesser known -- films.)

That won't be the case with SHINE. This is playing out more like censorship of novels, in particular YA novels. Nothing quite helps boost sales like a good book ban.

My guess is that the entire debacle will allow more readers to find the book. And when awards are doled out or not, the right book in the right hands -- book by book, hand by hand -- is what can make all the difference in people's lives.