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Inaugural Program To Bring National Book Award Finalists To Campus

Feb. 14, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt, Scott Kaukonen

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The Sam Houston State University Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing, editing and publishing, in conjunction with the National Book Foundation, will debut a new marquee literary event, the “National Book Awards at Sam Houston,” this March.

This year’s inaugural program will feature fiction writer Téa Obreht, poet Lucie Brock-Broido and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang, who will present readings of their works and engage in a moderated conversation on March 31, beginning at 7 p.m. in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center. The event will be free and open to the public.

The event was created through a partnership between SHSU and the NBF to annually bring National Book Award winners and finalists to campus and to the community for a series of events celebrating literature and literacy. The National Book Awards are among the most prestigious annual literary awards in the nation, and the “National Book Awards at Sam Houston” will be only the second such program in the country.

The Tiger's Wife book cover
Stay Illusion book cover
American Born CHinese book cover
The authors of the National Book Award finalist works "The Tiger's Wife" (top), "Stay, Illusion" (middle) and "American-Born Chinese" (bottom) will visit SHSU on March 31 for the inaugural "National Book Awards at Sam Houston" event.

“We are thrilled for this opportunity. We see it not just as a chance to bring some of the best writers in the country to campus, but to bring them into the community,” said Scott Kaukonen, MFA program director. “We understand the value of literature and the many ways in which it shapes us and informs us, speaks for us and represents us. And we’re looking forward to reading and listening to and talking with talented writers who’ve found ways to do that particularly well.”

While in Huntsville, all three authors will conduct workshops with creative writing students from SHSU, while Yang, a two-time National Book Award finalist for young people’s literature, will visit Huntsville Intermediate School to discuss his books and his work as a graphic novelist.

“It’s important to us that these events are not merely sequestered at the university, but that they extend outward into the community,” Kaukonen said. “There are readers and booklovers everywhere, people of all ages and experiences. We want this to be an event that stretches across interests and academic disciplines, that brings together a diverse group of people from across the region, and that, most importantly, gets people of all ages talking about books and the ideas they inspire and the connections they create.”

The program represents a second partnership between SHSU and the National Book Foundation.

Amanda Nowlin-O’Banion, visiting professor of creative writing at SHSU, leads the NBF’s BookUp Texas program, which brings middle-school students to the SHSU campus each week during the semester to read and discuss age-appropriate literature. It is Nowlin-O’Banion’s work with the National Book Foundation that led to this new opportunity.

“We feel privileged to have this opportunity,” Kaukonen said. “Amanda, in particular, has worked hard to make it happen, and we’ve received tremendous support both at the university and in the community.”

For the past eight years, the NBF has partnered with Concordia College in Minnesota for a similar event.

The National Book Awards awards were established in 1950, and the first winners included Nelson Algren in fiction and William Carlos Williams in poetry. Within its first decade, the NBA recognized William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Wallace Stevens, Rachel Carson, Ralph Ellison, W. H. Auden, Marianne Moore, and Bernard Malamud, and has since been known for having recognized nearly every major American writer of the past 60 years, if not as a winner, then as a finalist, according to Kaukonen.

Obreht, an NBA finalist in fiction in 2011, was born in 1985 in the former Yugoslavia and spent her childhood in Cyprus and Egypt before eventually immigrating to the United States in 1997.

She earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Southern California and her Master of Fine Arts degree from Cornell University.

Her writing has been published in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s, Zoetrope: All-Story, the New York Times, and the Guardian, and has been anthologized in Best American Short Stories and Best American Non-Required Reading.

Her first novel, "The Tiger’s Wife," was published by Random House in 2011 and became a New York Times bestseller. In addition to being named an NBA finalist, "The Tiger’s Wife" received the Orange Prize, an annual award for the best novel written by a woman and published in the United Kingdom. She is the youngest-ever winner of the award.

She has been named by the New Yorker as one of the 20 best American fiction writers under 40 and included in the National Book Foundation’s list of “5 Under 35.” She became the first writer named to the “5 Under 35” list to also be a finalist for the National Book Award. Obreht lives in New York.

Brock-Broido, a finalist in poetry this year for "Stay, Illusion," was born in Pittsburgh, educated at Johns Hopkins and Columbia University, and has taught at Bennington, Princeton, Harvard (where she was a Briggs-Copeland poet) and Columbia.

She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as awards from the American Poetry Review and the Academy of American Arts and Letters.

She currently is director of poetry at the Columbia University School of the Arts, where she was the recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2013. Brock-Broido lives in New York City and Cambridge, Mass.

In an interview for BOMB magazine in 1995, she said that her “theory is that a poem is troubled into its making. It’s not a thing that blooms; it’s a thing that wounds.”

This theory bears itself out in her collections, "A Hunger," "The Master Letters," "Trouble in Mind," and "Stay, Illusion," which often explore obsessions and anxieties—of influence, ritual, mortality, and modernity—and which use whatever is available to create vivid, sometimes disorienting, portraits of the mind.

In 2006, Yang became the first person to be a finalist for an NBA for a graphic novel, "American-Born Chinese."

He was a finalist again this year for his pair of books, "Boxers & Saints," which together unfold the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China from two distinct perspectives.

Yang was born in California and began publishing comments under the name Humble Comics in 1996.

He received the Xeric Grant for Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks. Yang has received the American Library Association’s Printz Award for "American-Born Chinese," which also won an Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album—New.

"The Eternal Smile," a collaborative project with Derek Kirk Kim in 2009, won an Eisner as well.

Dark Horse Comics is currently publishing a comics continuation of Nickelodeon’s popular "Avatar: The Last Airbender," with art by Gurihiru and story by Mike DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, and Yang.

Yang teaches at Hamline University as part of their MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

For more information on the “National Book Awards at Sam Houston” events, contact Kaukonen at 936.294.1407, or Nowlin-O’Banion at 936.294.4109.




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