After the National Book Awards finalists were named last week, Laura Miller wrote a column for Slate called “How the National Book Awards Made Themselves Irrelevant.” Calling the award “the Newbery Medal for adults” she stated that “whatever policy each panel of judges embraces, over the years, the impression has arisen that already-successful titles are automatically sidelined in favor of books that the judges feel deserve an extra boost of attention.” (She was talking about the fiction category, not the scandal-plagued young people’s literature category).
We were wondering what exactly is wrong with the Newbery Medal, which as far as we’re concerned has a sterling reputation. Is Laura Miller calling Susan Cooper’s The Grey King undeserving of an award? Or Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH? Because we might need to have some words. But Victor LaValle, a judge for this year’s award, has responded with more pointed criticism. Writing for Publishers Weekly he begins by calling her column “bonkers.”
Then he goes on to say:
There are many problems with Ms. Miller’s assessment of what’s wrong with this year’s picks but the first has to be that we, this year’s judges, have been put through some secret National Book Awards ceremony wherein we agree “that already-successful titles are automatically sidelined in favor of books that the judges feel deserve an extra boost of attention.” The Masonic Order of Underdogs! If such a thing ever happened then the NBA are really nefarious because they wiped my memory banks clean. I think it’s worth noting here that one of our choices, Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, was an unqualified hit this year, winning its author the Orange Prize. And a second, Julie Otsuka’s The Buddha in the Attic, was on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list. How dare all those people have the gall to like books that don’t rate with Laura Miller.