Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ernest J Gaines Award

I just heard tell of a new award for African American authors. There aren't that many of them out there, so I thought I'd provide a little info on it...

The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence honors the legacy of one of America's finest literary treasures and recognizes the work of a deserving fiction writer. The winner will receive a $10,000 award and present a reading from the work at the award ceremony in January 2008. Travel, accommodations, and meals will be provided. The panel of jurors for the award includes Alice Walker, Dr. John Callahan, and Dr. Rudy Byrd.

Criteria for submission: Any book-length work of fiction published during 2006; the writer must be an African-American. Submissions will be accepted from February 1, 2007 through April 30, 2007. To enter a book for review, send completed registration form, available at their site, and 4 copies of the book to:

The Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence
c/o The Baton Rouge Area Foundation
402 N. Fourth St.
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

Here's some info on the man himself... Ernest J. Gaines (b. January 15, 1933) is a prominent African-American fiction writer and writer-in-residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his 1993 novel, A Lesson Before Dying, which did win the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. In 2004, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His books include Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays (2005), A Gathering of Old Men (1983), In My Father's House (1978), A Long Day in November (1971) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971).

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Another Fresno MFA Hire!

I'm very pleased with a bit of news I just got from Cal State. They've made a second fiction hire, this time snagging Alex Espinoza. Alex is the author of the novel Still Water Saints: A Novel, just out from Random House. It has been named a "Discover Great New Writers" selection at Barnes and Noble Booksellers. He also wrote Jesus Stole My Bike (The Chicano Chapbook Series), as well as a number of short stories and essays in journals and anthologies. His second novel (about a Mexican actor in the Golden Age of Hollywood), is also under contract at Random House. He received his MFA from UC Irvine in 2004.

The LA Daily News did a nice profile, and Booklist had this to say about Still Water Saints...

Espinoza vividly brings a small Southern California town to vibrant life in his magical debut centering on Perla, the proprietor of the town's botanica, and the customers who come to her for help. Armed with statues of Buddha and Vishnu, Kachinas, Santos, candles and soaps, herbs and teas, Perla has a cure for everything from diaper rash to kidney stones. Espinoza sends an intriguing melange of townsfolk to her door, including Rosa, an overweight cashier, and Juan, who has been "quiet and sulky" with his girlfriend ever since his father's death, and whose mother grieves not for him but for Elvis. But 15-year-old Rodrigo is Perla's biggest worry. While in Tijuana, he was coerced into joining a group of young males abused by pedophiles, and now, after escaping, he fears for his life. Espinoza is a refreshing new writer.

And I get to work with him! I'm very happy about this, and I think it makes the MFA program at Cal State Fresno that much stronger, that much more a publishing power, that much more culturally diverse.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Smithsonian... Yes!

Okay, it looks like my Smithsonian appearance is back on track. We've rescheduled it for the evening of Mar 21st. The old link to information about it doesn't work anymore and I don't have a new one yet, but I'll add it here when I do. For people who bought tickets before, I certainly hope this new date will work for you. And I hope the weather will be wonderfully spring-like.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Jesse Owens

A review I wrote was published today in the Raleigh News & Observer. The book was Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics, by Jeremy Schaap. They titled the review Racing into history: Jesse Owens proved the lie of Hitler's racial theories at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and actually made it the lead article. This is how it begins...

The year was 1936. The place was Hitler's Berlin. The man was Jesse Owens, the African-American track and field star from rural Alabama who won gold in four events and broke records in all but one (that would be the 100 meters, in which his record time wasn't allowed because the judges concluded the tailwind must have aided him). We all remember that he rolled over Nazi racist propaganda like a freight train and secured a place as one of sports most enduring figures. Those are the familiar facts. The story behind that performance is considerably richer, though, as Jeremy Schaap reminds us in his new biography..."

And then it goes on. If you're interested in the book's strength's and weaknesses click on the link above. It'll take you to my two cents about it.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Cal State Fresno

I'm very happy to be able to say that I've been offered and I've accepted a tenure track job at the California State University in Fresno. I taught there for a semester a few years back, and I've stayed in touch with the program since. When I heard a position had finally opened up there I applied, went through the longish process, interviewed, drove out for a visit, etc. Anyway, it worked out. They made a wonderful offer and we negotiated a little bit until it was even better, and then I said yes. So that's done.

One factor that made Fresno very attractive was/is the faculty. They're quality writers but also kind, intelligent, nice people, supportive of their students and their colleagues. You'd be surprised how rarely all those characteristics go together in one packet. On the fiction side of things I'm working with Steve Yarbrough, whose work I've admired for some time. The poets are Corrinne Clegg Hales and Tim Skeen, and working in nonfiction there's John Hales, Lillian Faderman and Steven Church. The program was also the long time home of Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Philip Levine.

And now they've got me. You could check out their blog for news items.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Smithsonian... Not!

I was supposed to be in Washington DC today, giving a presentation at the Smithsonian for their Historical Fiction Writers' series, focussing on Pride of Carthage and Hannibal. I was chuffed to have been invited and really looking forward to it. Even made up a wee slide show to get a multi-media thing going. Didn't happen, though. Close. Close, but didn't happen.

The reason? Weather. From the start my flight out of Colorado Springs was canceled, and then when I did get on a plane the engines iced up while it was being de-iced. Pilot said this was weird, never happened to him before, but it made for a delay of about an hour and a half, which meant I missed my next flight. I then got booked on another flight out of Denver to Dulles. I got on the plane with the other hopeful passengers, only to told, sorry, we're not flying after all. Now the issue was the storm sweeping across the East Coast... I spent the night in Denver (about sixty miles from home), hoping to get on to a 5am flight the next morning. But, no, that didn't happen either. Dulles and National airports were both closed! So instead I came home. 28 hours away and nothing to show for it. On top of that, my luggage got lost...

Anyway, I'm still smiling. I think the Smithsonian folks want to reschedule for next month, and that's fine by me. I do want to thank the 100+ people that bought tickets for the evening. My travel difficulties aside, I do hope to be able to connect with you all in the near future.
Now, I've got some work to do...

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Acacia: Book One: The War With the Mein

Now that's a cover.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

The State of Things

I just did an interview with The State of Things on North Carolina Public Radio to help promote The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. I think it went well. No moments that were too embarrassing. Didn't even feel like I was taken to task for including Watership Down! (I had my reasons for that, by the way.)

Frank Stasio was the host, and the other guests where Pearl Cleage, G D Gearino and the editor, J Peder Zane.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Leoes de Cartago!

Here's a look at the Portuguese cover for Pride of Carthage, which is published by Editora Bertrand. There's something familiar about that image, but it works for me.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Acacia Street and Like Trees, Walking

A writer friend, Ravi Howard, was kind enough to snap this picture for me from a street in Mobile, Alabama...
Thanks, Ravi, maybe someday somebody will glance up at this street sign and think of a book by the same name.

By the way, Ravi's debut novel comes out this month. It's called Like Trees, Walking, and it's very good. I had the pleasure of reading it in galleys. It's about a somber subject, the last recorded lynching of a black man in the US, and it's written with quiet lyricism and carefully crafted prose. Consider giving it a look. For more information you could also check out his website Ravi's Sight.


Friday, February 02, 2007

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books

Just got my copy of J. Peder Zane's The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. I was lucky enough to be one of 125 "leading writers" that was asked to contribute a list of ten favorite books. (I also wrote a brief appreciation of one of them, The Green House, by Mario Vargas Llosa. )
Flipping through it is quite interesting. The lists have some definite similarities, but there are also plenty of variety and quite a few surprises. And it's nice to be in good company here. There are lists from Andrea Barrett, Annie Proulx, Bebe Moore Campbell, Barry Unsworth, David Foster Wallace, David Mitchell, Ethan Canin, Edwidge Danticat, Francine Prose, George Pelecanos, Ha Jin, Heid Julavits, Ian Rankin, Jim Harrison, Jonathan Lethem, Kent Haruf, Michael Chabon, Norman Mailer, Paul Auster, Pearl Cleage, Percival Everett, Russell Banks, Richard Powers, Sherman Alexie, Stephen King, T C Boyle, Thomas Mallon and Wally Lamb, just a name a few. Nice company to keep, even if it's just within the pages of a book about books.
You could check it out on Amazon here The Top Ten.
My list? Well, it includes titles by Toni Morrison, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Milan Kundera, Cormac McCarthy, Ben Okri and Frank Herbert, just to name a few. Honestly, I find this quite an interesting book. It's reminded me of a lot titles I need to check out, and it's also given new insights to some of these recommenders, who at times really surprise with their choices.
Thanks to Peder for putting it all together.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Those Italians...

Those Italians are being very good to me. News just in today is that my Italian hardback publisher, Piemme, has just negotiated a separate contract to publish a paperback edition. I love this news, especially as Piemme knows exactly how Annibale performed, and they still think there's more life in it. Their going out with a first printing of 45,000 copies! That would be plenty even in the US, but for them to do that in Italy means they're quite confident the market for the book is there. Groovy.