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National Book Award controversy: a follow-up

As you probably know by now, Lauren Myracle has withdrawn Shine from consideration for the National Book Award. The book was nominated in error (it was confused with Chime by Franny Billingsley when the titles were transmitted over the phone); at first the National Book Foundation stated that there would be six books in the category this year, but yesterday morning Myracle and her publisher, Amulet Books, announced that she would be withdrawing Shine at the request of the NBF. In return, at Lauren’s request, the NBF will donate $5,000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation (Shine deals, in part, with a vicious hate crime perpetrated against a gay teen).

I’m almost reluctant to write another post on this subject; much has already been said about it (see Liz B’s summary for more), and I can’t imagine that either Myracle or the five remaining finalists are excited to have the issue re-hashed so publicly. On the other hand, this is a blog about teen literature, and YALSA is an organization that promotes teen literature and a love of reading, so we’re an important voice in the conversation.

In the poll we posted yesterday (you can see results so far in the sidebar on the right or in the poll archive), a large majority of the voters selected “Even though it was in error, the National Book Foundation should have kept the six nominees as announced last week, as asking the author to resign created even more drama.” That statement represents my original position too. Why not just leave all six books as finalists and give the final award to one of the other five books?

Then someone (on Twitter, I think) pointed out that the judges might not have supported that idea. I can understand that as well: like the librarians who serve on awards committees for the Printz, Best Fiction for Young Adults, and other YALSA awards and selected lists, the five judges for the National Book Award worked very hard to select the five titles they wanted to include as finalists (Chime, Flesh and Blood So Cheap, Inside Out and Back Again, My Name is Not Easy and Okay for Now). Including Shine negates some of judges’ hard work; Shine was nominated, they read it, and for whatever reason, they elected not to include it. For that reason, I think, the NBF felt like they needed to remove it from the list. Rather than rectifying the situation immediately or claiming responsibility for the miscommunication, however, they waited almost a week and placed the burden of correcting it on Ms. Myracle.

Unfortunately, the losers in this controversy are the authors and the books. Myracle, who by all accounts wrote, a compelling, harrowing, important book, has been put through the wringer and made to correct a mistake that wasn’t hers to begin with. As difficult as the week must have been, she handled it with grace and style. I come away from the whole situation respecting her even more than I did before. Although they certainly haven’t had as rough a time as Myracle, the other authors are also hurt by the controversy; the amount of publicity directed as the original mistake and its subsequent mishandling has taken attention away from the five remaining finalists and their works. In fact, I’ve seen talk of boycotting the National Book Awards. No one wins in that situation: not Lauren Myracle, not Franny Billingsley, Albert Marrin, Thanhha Lai, Debby Dahl Edwardson, or Gary Schmidt, and certainly not readers, who may miss out on fantastic books if we chose not to cover the titles of the awards. Instead, I suggest that we support all six authors. Read Shine, for sure, but also read the National Book Award finalists: all of them are great books and all of them deserve our support.

— Emily Calkins, still reading Beauty Queens

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3 Comments

  1. What a nice response, Emily. I’ve read some comments in other sites that criticize the judges and the NBA, but mistakes happen (and this sure as heck won’t happen again to the NBA!) and the authors whose work did earn the distinction of finalist should not be ignored. I plan to read the ones that look interesting to me, and, finalist or not, Shine is one of them. I’m actually glad the book was in the media; otherwise I might not have noticed it.

  2. Hi April – I’m glad you liked the post! It’s just such an unfortunate situation all the way around, but I think it is increasing Shine’s visibility (I read somewhere that it’s shot up in popularity at Amazon). I don’t think that makes up for the gut-wrenching week Lauren Myracle must’ve had, but at least it’s a small silver lining. I hope the other titles get the same kind of boost!

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