Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Personal Thanks to the National Book Foundation

Perhaps you've seen the fiasco that was the National Book Award announcement in the Young Readers (YA) category wherein Lauren Myracle's Shine was announced as one of five finalists but, it turns out, it was supposed to have been Franny Billingsley's Chime on the list. Ugh. I like Libba Bray's encapsulation of the mess (as she is funny, smart, and quite a fine and opinionated writer, indeed). It's a good read to get up to date. That said, personally, I have another reaction, too. THANKS, NBF!

I mean I've always figured this type of mistake exists, and now I have proof! Sure, the NBF tried to rectify things before the award came out, but what if they hadn't? I bet that happens all the time.

This explains why in 1994, I didn't get an Oscar screenplay nomination for my work on Little Big League - clearly, there was a transcription error (probably with Bullets over Broadway as they BOTH HAVE Bs IN THEIR TITLE (not to mention some L sounds!!!)). Or maybe it's the fact that both Quentin Tarantino and I had worked at video stores. Yes. It's all clear now.

Similarly, I had suspected THIS VERY YEAR when I didn't receive a MacArthur Genius Grant that there had been a mistake. My guess is that it was U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan - a POET!!!! YOU SEE??!!! - who got on the list instead of me due to a miscommunication.

I am so relieved to know that all this time, my suspicions had basis in reality. I feel better about myself now, and I hope you feel better about yourself, too. And don't even get me started on the Nobel.... "Collected Works"? Hey, I've collected lots of work here, ya know?

SERIOUSLY, though - I feel horrible for the authors involved in this mess (and I am not equating the above to the situation Lauren Myracle is in, as her work measures up to the award standards in ways that my above examples do not). I cannot even imagine the roller coaster of emotions involved here, and I'm impressed at the grace and positivity from Ms. Myracle.

I feel lousy for the person who made the transcription error confusing Chime and Shine and later discovered the error most publicly and had the realization that there were NO safeguards in place. (If it wasn't an error but was done with intent, well, that'd be a different though intriguing story!)

It's a miserable set of events, no question. The thing is, mistakes happen... and it's how folks handle them that has the lasting impact. This situation keeps getting worse for the NBF, it seems. It's a shame.

That said, I disagree with folks who say this destroys the integrity of the NBA award itself. I say that because I've looked at the list of judges - Marc Aronson, Ann Brashares, Matt de la Pena, Nikki Grimes, and Will Weaver - and I know that they are going to give tremendous care and consideration to the books handed over to them. And I know that the judges in the earlier round worked their butts off to make their choices of the five books to advance here.

We might not like their choices, but having been a Cybils judge and talked to Newbery, Caldecott and Printz judges, I would guarantee they put a lot of thought and effort into their choices.

When the final award is announced, I hope we as a community celebrate the winner. It is, dare I say, a moment to shine. I hope we don't compound the errors already committed by tarring the nominees and winners with collateral taint. Mind you, they'll experience that anyway to some extent, and I have not seen anyone in our community writing about this and implying the nominees aren't worthy or deserving. Still, our reaction is important and on announcement day, with this mess a little behind us, I hope we can celebrate talent well.

As for the NBF and the integrity and worthiness of their policies and practices... that is a different issue entirely.


sara wilson etienne said...

Hear hear! I don't think anyone wants to take away from the finalist and winners... this whole thing is so unfortunate. Thanks for some humor and something to think about in this situation!

Mari Hunt said...

Collateral taint - great term. Too often it's the last thing considered when trying to correct a bad situation.

tanita✿davis said...

We might not like their choices, but having been a Cybils judge and talked to Newbery, Caldecott and Printz judges, I would guarantee they put a lot of thought and effort into their choices.

It's hard, and the poor judges must be heartsick that their one shot at this (most aren't judging yearly) is forever marred by a mistake. Lauren Myracle has shown herself to be a diva before now - in how she responds to people challenging and banning her books. This is just cherries and icing for that chica.

Unknown said...

Well put, Greg!

Lisa Gail Green said...

Great post! You are right. The other nominees should not suffer from the mistakes of the NBA. It really is a shame they did not choose to include SHINE, however afterwards.

Charlotte said...


Rogerdebris said...

Not as certain about the term "collateral taint". I think that was a character on South Park last season. But as to your content, I totally agree. I would even go further and say that the genius grant thing itself may be a clerical error: had it been the "embittered layabout" grant, as was originally intended, I would be a wealthy man today. ...Hard to imagine how those clerks got it so wrong.

Sophia Chang said...

Oh Roger...lol

Thanks for the "sh*t happens" frankness - and dude, you totally did get nominated, but the phone connection was really bad...can...hear me now?