Thursday, February 23, 2012

The PEN/Faulkner Award and Finalists: Part 1

Most people know about the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Many people know about the National Book Award. If you have been following my previous posts, you know about the slightly lesser known National Book Critics Circle Award. (See my prior posts: background information on the award, my predictions of the finalists, and a recap of the finalists. The winner will be announced on March 8th). Still, there is a fourth major literary award given in the United States that is even less widely known: the PEN/Faulkner Award.

The PEN/Faulkner is the newest of the four major awards. First given out in 1980, it was started as a result of the controversy surrounding the 1979 National Book Award and changes made in 1980. When Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien won instead of the more commercially successful The World According to Garp by John Irving, many in the publishing industry were upset by the obscurity of the choice. These detractors pressed for changes in the awards, modifying the voting, adding categories and rebranding them as the American Book Awards. (Read more about the beginning and end of the American Book Awards in this Washington Post article.) A group who thought that these changes were a mistake, including novelist Mary Lee Settle, pushed for a new award.  Although the National Book Awards eventually returned, and as they exist today are closer to the pre-1979 awards than the American Book Awards, when the PEN/Faulkner Award was started, this return seemed doubtful. Thus, the goal when it began was to fill a void. Even though this void may no longer exists, the award remains, and deserves attention.

The finalists for this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award were announced on Tuesday. They are: 

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks 

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Stay tuned for more thoughts on the finalists!

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