Dispatch from the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Awards ceremony, March 1, 2017:
“The boxes made a heavy thump when they were delivered to my front porch. I unpacked them in my bedroom, making a long row of novels and story collections. ‘Whoa,’ my daughter said. ‘That’s a lot of imagination.’ ” —Benjamin Percy, Discover Awards judge, details “a year of strenuous reading” in presenting first prize fiction to Abby Geni for The Lightkeepers
“We don’t need to outsmart poverty. We need to hate it more.” —Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, accepts first prize for nonfiction with a call to arms for writers and readers
“A special shout-out to Erin Sinesky Lovett, my publicist, with whom I’ve probably exchanged one million emails, and we just met today. I live in Brooklyn. Big city, I guess. —Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America, who took home third prize in nonfiction
“Ambition in a first novel and in a young writer is always a glorious thing, and [Yaa] Gyasi has written a book that should act as inspiration, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says...[B]ecause she does so many things that writers are afraid to do, and I thought I’d give a list, in case anyone wants to hire her to go around to MFA programs and to do motivational speeches, which I think is a really good idea.” —Emma Straub presents second prize in fiction to Yaa Gyasi, for her widely acclaimed, multigenerational debut novel Homegoing
“Yaa couldn’t be here because she’s at an MFA program giving a motivational speech.” —Jordan Pavlin, Gyasi’s editor, who accepted the award on her behalf
“The store is a place where you can buy things. For some, you go to the store to see what new colors are out this spring, and what new styles, and what flatters you, and what’s on sale. And there are other people, who go to the store and ask the lady to help them buy a black dress that they can wear everywhere. And wear it for ten years. They might try to augment that dress with a whimsical scarf. That was loaned to them from a student. But as long as the black dress remotely fits, they will avoid returning to the store. But a bookstore is different.” —Hope Jahren, second-prize nonfiction winner for Lab Girl, on how a scientist-cum-author may approach dressing for a literary awards ceremony
Meanwhile, at LAX:
“They made me feel like such a crushed, mashed, hopeless old lady and I am a feisty, strong, articulated English speaker. I kept thinking that if this were happening to me, a person who is white, articulate, educated and fluent in English, what on earth is happening to people who don’t have my power?”—Mem Fox, beloved Australian children’s book author (Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes) on being detained by immigration agents on suspicion of visa fraud, in the Guardian. The bleak experience “turned me into a revolutionary,” Fox says.
Megan Labrise writes “Field Notes” and features for Kirkus Reviews. The photo above left of Yaa Gyasi is by Michael Lionstar; photo above right of Hope Jahren is by Daniel Rutkowski.