William Vollmann won the National Book Award for Europe Central. Way to go, Vollmann. It is about time that Mr. Vollmann’s incredible output be recognized.

Between this and Banville winning the Booker, part of me wonders if there is some karmic conspiracy amongst the West Coast litbloggers and these awards.

When Vollmann accepted the award, he said, “I thought I’d lose, so I didn’t prepare a speech.” Ron has a first-hand account of the many “Oh my Gods” shouted over this unexpected win. But what’s also interesting is that many of the news outlets are putting Didion’s nonfiction victory for The Year of Magical Thinking over Vollmann’s win.

BBC: “Didion and Mailer win book prizes.”

Boston Globe: “Didion wins nonfiction Book Award.”

Reuters: “Top US nonfiction prize goes to Joan Didion.”

If Mary Gaitskill or Christopher Sorrentino had won instead of Vollmann, would they have received such secondary billing? Well, likely, given that Didion is the grand dame of nonfiction. But it’s interesting that the coverage, which has in past years valued the fiction winner over the nonfiction winner, has done just the reverse.

Other winners included poet W.S. Merwin for Migration. Merwin has been nominated for seven other awards, but had not won. Jeanne Birdsall won the young people’s literature award for The Penderwicks.

For more information on Vollmann, check out the Vollmann Club.

[UPDATE: And more here from Sarah, noting that the “minor surprise” or the “unsurprising” reactions that seem to have been reported after the fact (Vollmann won? Oh shit! Get that gun-toting nut off Page E1 because middle America isn’t interested in him. And, for god’s sake, play up Didion! Everyone loves Joan!) were very much not in evidence at the actual awards ceremony.]

[UPDATE 2: With associations of Merwin dancing in his head, Litkicks describes the 1975 dustup between Ginsberg and Merwin.]

[UPDATE 3: A good writeup by the Book Standard folks: “Vollmann began his acceptance speech about ten feet to the right of the microphone, and had to be shepherded over by an attendant. Still, in a tuxedo that looked several sizes too big for him, he came off quite charming, saying that he hadn’t expected to win, and so hadn’t prepared a speech, which, from the confused content of his thanks, appeared, for once, to be true….Vollmann’s win, then, may have been in part a big fat raspberry directed at the people who hoped the award would go to someone who sells.”


  1. The only one of the fiction nominees I can see supplanting the billing there would be if Doctorow had won. In all the coverage leading up to the awards it was “Doctorow and Didion nominated”.

  2. Edward, In a post 9/11 world non-fiction is more better than fiction. Besides, its not like anybody is going to run to Barnes & Noble and start giving out Europe Central for Christmas gifts.

  3. Your recent track record with awards winners is indeed impressive. Can one of you West Coasters take up the cause of championing Margaret Atwood? Her getting a Nobel would really make their day over at Bookninja.

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