Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The Barnes and Noble Discovery Award for 2008 Just Went Down, Yall
Dateline: March 4, 2009.
I JUST gave a speech at the Barnes and Noble event when I awarded the grand prize
for fiction to Gin Phillips, author of The Well and the Mine. She’s
from Alabama. No more than 30 years old. SHOCKING. A NATURAL.
FIRST I said that I didn’t have a written speech and that didn’t
believe in them. Which is true; I just talk into the microphone and
see what truths float up.
I read the first sentence from the book, which says that Tess has just
seen a woman throw a baby down the well.
I said, Not only did the author put
Chekhov’s rifle over the mantle, she FIRED it in the first sentence of
the book. Who does that? I asked. NO ONE.
After a pause, I said that the jurors and I had had a fist fight over the
winner but in the end I prevailed because they had BOTH used the word LOVE
in ALL CAPS when they emailed me about her book. Which they had. And I
said, SO. That’s how it went down, butter bean.
Then I said that all her characters were real people and that the town
exists, the coalmines exist, and the baby is in that fucking well.
And I named every character from the book. Then I softly sang a chorus
from the Union song
from the Depression (it's in her book). Then I said that I was not a
good enough writer to judge Gin Phillips, and that my books weren’t fit
to be embossed on Bounty paper towels.
I quoted how Updike said that you had to write 300 pages to be taken
seriously and 500 to win an award. Gin Phillips is the exception that
proves the rule.
Then I said that I was really still VERY sad that john Updike had died
and that I missed him terribly.
I asked if anyone else missed john Updike, RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU DO
I said. A few people raised their hands. COME ON, GET EM UP THERE, I
A few more people in suits raised their hands.
And I got straight back around to the author, Gin Phillips. I said she was
obviously a liar because this could not be anyone’s first book. I
asked about her secret life in Mumbai. WHERE ARE THE OTHER BOOKS? I
demanded to know. Who are you REALLY?
Then I read snatches from her book. I channeled Eudora Welty. I pulled ALL THE STOPS. Ms Phillips was openly weeping by the time I said that Harper Lee has met her match.
Afterward I talked to David Sheff, a lovely man who won for BEAUTIFUL
BOY. I was delighted to hear that his equally talented son, Nic Sheff, is doing great and working on a novel, now. David Sheff and I live in the same county. During his acceptance speech he quoted Obama on how to fight druigs through healthcare reform and not through law enforcement. Yay.
My agent Kim and i met for coffee
this morning and read her the 3 pages I have from my next book. Kim was SUPER
EXCITED. Which for Kim means she said, Yes, paperback, moleskin jacket,
deadline of March 31.