Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: The Washington Post, Style C02, October 12, 2000
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Oates and Sontag Novels Among Award Nominees

Linton Weeks, Washington Post Staff Writer

The large and lively "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present" by Jacques Barzun and 19 other works of nonfiction, fiction, poetry and young people's literature were nominated yesterday for the National Book Award.

From his home in San Antonio, cultural observer Barzun, 93 and still critiquing, observed, "I'm surprised and pleased."

David Levering Lewis, a finalist in 1993 for "W.E.B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919," made the cut again this year for Volume 2 of his massive work: "W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963."

Lewis, on leave from the history department at Rutgers University, said, "I was blown away the first time. This time I am not astonished. I am modest in my expectations. It's an honor to place."

Upon learning of the other nominees in the nonfiction category, Lewis said, "What bracing company to keep."

Those nominees are: "The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach" by Alice Kaplan; "In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex" by Nathaniel Philbrick; and "Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon" by Patrick Tierney.

In the fiction category, the nominations are "The Feast of Love" by Charles Baxter, "The Diagnosis" by Alan Lightman, "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates, "Blue Angel" by Francine Prose and "In America" by Susan Sontag.

Prose was writing when she got a message to call the foundation. "I thought I was being called to judge," she said. "After I told my family, and squealed a little, I went back to writing."

Of her competition she said, "It's a pretty formidable group."

In poetry: "Tell Me" by Kim Addonizio; "Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000" by Lucille Clifton; "A New Selected Poems" by Galway Kinnell; "New Addresses: Poems" by Kenneth Koch; and "The Other Lover" by Bruce Smith.

And in young people's literature: "Forgotten Fire" by Adam Bagdasarian; "The Book of the Lion" by Michael Cadnum; "Many Stones" by Carolyn Coman; "Hurry Freedom!" by Jerry Stanley; and "Homeless Bird" by Gloria Whelan.

The award in each category will be presented by the National Book Foundation at a glittery affair in New York on Nov. 15. Ray Bradbury is slated to receive a special award, the 2000 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Comedian and author Steve Martin will be the master of ceremonies.

Each winner receives $ 10,000 and a crystal statue. Each runner-up takes home $ 1,000 and a bronze medal. Foundation Executive Director Neil Baldwin said the judges paged through 835 books from 198 various publishers to find the finalists.

To be considered, books must have been written by a U.S. citizen and published between Dec. 1, 1999, and Nov. 30, 2000. Some of the books, such as Tierney's controversial study of unethical anthropologists and Coman's story about a Rockville teenager who travels to South Africa, are not in bookstores yet.

Barzun said he learned of his nomination on Tuesday while sitting at his desk and writing. "I'm gratified," he said. He will not be flying to New York for the awards ceremony, however. Asked if he planned to celebrate his nomination, he replied, "I don't celebrate things that are private and surprising."