Prize Primer

We're only just out of the starting gate for 2009, and already the literary award season has begun in earnest. The glittering film industry may bestow what many consider its top awards early in the year (the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and, of course, the Academy Awards), but the world of books spreads the wealth around a bit, from February right through to the Fall. Below is a roundup of many of the most prestigious and highly coveted awards in literature, the kind that can boost sales of a sleepy title and compel publishers to rush back to the presses for those already bestselling titles that disappear from bookshelves at an even quicker pace when the awards are announced. This is by no means a complete list, so please forgive me if I've left off someone's favorite.

Book World's own Ron Charles just received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. The group also announced their finalists for the 2009 NBCC Awards in several categories. The awards ceremony will be held March 12 in New York. Visit for a full lineup.

Fiction Finalists
"2666" by Roberto Bolaño
"Home" by Marilynne Robinson
"The Lazarus Project" by Aleksandar Hemon
"The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart" by M. Glenn Taylor
"Olive Kittredge" by Elizabeth Strout
Poetry Finalists
"Sleeping It Off in Rapid City" by August Kleinzahler
"Half the World in Light" by Juan Felipe Herrera
"Sources" by Devin Johnston
"The Landscapist" by Pierre Martory (trans. John Ashbery)
"Human Dark with Sugar" by Brenda Shaughnessy
Criticism Finalists
"Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard" by Richard Brody
"The Men in My Life" by Vivian Gornick
"Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds" by Joel L. Kraemer
"Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry" by Reginald Shepherd
"Children's Literature: A Reader's History: Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter" by Seth Lerer
Biography Finalists
"Ida, A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching" by Paula J. Giddings
"The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family In An American Century" by Steve Coll
"The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul" by Patrick French
"The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family" by Annette Gordon-Reed
"White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson & Thomas Wentworth Higginson" by Brenda Wineapple
Autobiography Finalists
"Why I Came West" by Rick Bass
"The House On Sugar Beach" by Helene Cooper
"The Bishop's Daughter" by Honor Moore
"The Eaves Of Heaven" by Andrew X. Pham
"My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq" by Ariel Sabar
Nonfiction Finalists
"The Forever War" by Dexter Filkins
"This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War" by Drew Gilpin Faust
"The Dark Side" by Jane Mayer
"White Protestant Nation" by Allan Lichtman
"From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations Since 1776" by George C. Herring

The deadline for submissions for the Pulitzer Prize in journalism is early this year (Feb. 1). Those awards, including those for fiction, general nonfiction, poetry, drama, history, biography/autobiography and music are traditionally announced in April, with the award ceremony luncheon held at Columbia Univ. in May. Go to for the full scoop.

The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award " involves libraries from all corners of the globe, and is open to books written in any language," also carries the largest cash prize for any literary award across the globe. The longlist was announced back in November. The shortlist will be released April 2, and the winner will be announced and appropriately feted on June. 11. Read more at

PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, presented by the distinguished PEN/Faulkner Foundation, will be awarded in May, with a reading by the winners and four finalists at an elegant ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. (

Those writers eligible to compete for the Man Booker (formerly the Booker) Prize must reside in the British Commonwealth or Ireland. This is another prize that announces a longlist early on, followed by a shortlist and then the winner. Perhaps it's to ramp up the anticipation, but it certainly must lead to far more disappointments, too!. The longlist is unveiled in August, the shortlist in September, and the award ceremony itself will be held on Oct. 6 in the sumptuous Guildhall in London and televised live on BBC News. I think I'd fall out of my chair if I saw a literary award presented live on any newscast in the States. More info can be found at The group also created, in 2005, the Man Booker International Prize, which is awarded every two years.

The Jewish Book Council has already announced the winners and finalists for the 2008 National Jewish Book Award, and will hold an awards shindig March 5 in New York. The awards cover an array of categories (children's, criticism, Jewish life) but I've listed just the general winners below. Go to for the deserved winners in all disciplines.

Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
In Memory of Simon & Shulamith (Sofi) Goldberg


"Marie Syrkin: Values Beyond the Self"
By Carole S. Kessner
(Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England)


"The Journal of Hélène Berr"
By Helene Berr
(Weinstein Books)

"Benjamin Disraeli"
By Adam Kirsch
(Schocken Books/Nextbook)


"Songs for the Butcher's Daughter"
By Peter Manseau
(Free Press)

"Light Fell"
By Evan Fallenberg
(Soho Press)

"Memory: A Novel"
By Philippe Grimbert
(Simon & Schuster)

"People of the Book"
By Geraldine Brooks

Gerrard and Ella Berman Memorial Award

"1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War"
By Benny Morris
(Yale University Press)


"The Lost Spy: An American in Stalin's Secret Service"
By Andrew Meier
(W. W. Norton)

The Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the largest awarded to a practitioner of verse (and who is a living American writer), is granted by the Poetry Foundation (publisher of the journal Poetry) and is usually announced in the early summer. Last year's winner was Gary Snyder. Visit for more details.

The Lambda Literary Foundation, which aims to nurture and support writers in the LBGT community, will announce its shortlist of finalists by March 15, and present the 21st annual Lambda Literary Awards sometime in May.

And last, but by no means least, we come to the National Book Awards, which round out the literary award season. The National Book Foundation will announce the finalists on October 15, with the (already sold-out) ceremony held on November 18 as part of "National Book Awards Week" in New York.

By Christopher Schoppa |  January 27, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
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