Six authors with significant Bay Area connections are within shouting distance of one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country.
Over the course of the last week, the National Book Foundation rolled out its longlists for the 2018 National Book Award. Longlists feature ten titles for each of the award's five categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, young people's literature and, for the first time since the 1980s, translated literature.
Last year's winner for fiction was Stanford University alumna, Jesmyn Ward, for her novel, "Sing, Unburied, Sing."
The five finalists for each category will be announced on Oct. 10 ahead of the awards ceremony on Nov. 14 in New York City.
Rae Armantrout, poetry, "Wobble": Poet Rae Armantrout was born in Vallejo, and after growing up in San Diego, she returned to the Bay Area to graduate from both UC Berkeley and San Francisco State. Armantrout was part of the first generation of the avant-garde Langauge poets, which developed in part in San Francisco. Her publisher describes "Wobble" this way: "Sometimes funny, sometimes alarming, the poems in 'Wobble' play peek-a-boo with doom."
Jamel Brinkley, fiction, "A Lucky Man": Jamel Brinkley is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University. The nine stories in his debut short story collection take a critical look at masculinity. KQED Arts' book columnist Ingrid Rojas Contreras wrote of the collection, "Brinkley explores black men under both the pressurized violence and bottled up tenderness that undoes them at every turn. This is a book that acknowledges male stereotypes while subverting them and exploring the psychic damage they leave in their wake."
Daniel Gumbiner, fiction, "The Boatbuilder": Born and raised in Northern California and a graduate of UC Berkeley, Gumbiner sets his debut novel in a fictional coastal town in Northern California, where the main character, Berg, has fled to from San Francisco. Struggling with opioid addiction, Berg befriends and becomes an apprentice to an older artisan boatbuilder who tries to help him through his addiction. According to the New York Times review, " 'The Boatbuilder' offers a decidedly gentle, sometimes quietly rewarding window onto the attempted recovery of an American opioid addict."
Tommy Orange, fiction, "There There": Oakland native Tommy Orange's debut novel chronicles the experiences of urban Indians living in Oakland. Orange is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, and the book weaves the stories of 12 different characters until they collide at the Big Oakland Powwow. Orange's book, along with the films "Sorry to Bother You" and "Blindspotting" by fellow Oakland natives Boots Riley and Daveed Digs, was part of a surge in national attention toward Oakland and gentrification thanks to work by artists of color this year. "Oakland is in no way destroyed in my mind. It’s different," Orange told KQED Arts' Ingrid Rojas Contreras. "But it’s always been changing. The loss of people who called it home for so long due to rising rent and gentrification for me is the biggest loss."
Elizabeth Partridge, young people's literature, "Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam": Berkeley's Elizabeth Partridge brings the immensity of the Vietnam War to younger readers in "Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam." Partridge, who was a high school and college student in Berkeley in the 1960s, told the San Jose Mercury News that she was inspired to write the book after visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time. The book intersperses stories of six American soldiers, one American nurse and one Vietnamese refugee with explanatory chapters on key players and events from the era.
Rebecca Solnit, nonfiction, "Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises": The Novato-raised and San Francisco-based Solnit's new collection of essays looks at some of the biggest issues facing the United States today including electoral politics, climate change and gentrification. Several of the essays tie directly to the Bay Area including one on the 2014 police killing of Alex Nieto and another on her time with Jarvis Masters, a death row inmate at San Quentin State Prison.
Several non-Bay Area authors with California connections also earned spots on the longlists:
- Jos Charles, poetry, "feeld"
- Tahereh Mafi, young people's literature, "A Very Large Expanse of Sea"
- Diana Khoi Nguyen, poetry, "Ghost Of"
- Jeffrey Stewart, nonfiction, "The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke"
- Adam Winkler, nonfiction, "We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights"
- Eugene Yelchin, young people's literature, "The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge"