Three Los Angeles writers, two of whom teach at USC, are among the 20 finalists for the National Book Awards. The finalists were named Wednesday in New York by the National Book Foundation, which recognizes the best literary and nonfiction work by Americans each year.
Nominees include T.C. Boyle, for his novel "Drop City" (Viking/Penguin Group), and Carol Muske-Dukes, for her book of poems "Sparrow" (Random House), both of whom are creative writing professors at USC. Also on the list is Los Angeles-based fiction writer Marianne Wiggins.
Muske-Dukes, who also is a novelist and critic, wrote "Sparrow" as an elegy for her late husband, actor David Dukes, who died suddenly in October 2000. "I don't think I've ever written a book of poems before that was so close to my actual experience," Muske-Dukes said Wednesday. "In this case, it was a very tragic experience. My hope was that the book would not just be autobiographical but be transformative. This is a kind of validation of that."
In the fiction category nominees include Shirley Hazzard, who has made the short list twice before, and first-time novelist Edward P. Jones.
Wiggins was nominated for her novel "Evidence of Things Unseen" (Simon & Schuster), which tells the story of an amateur scientist and the development of the atomic bomb. Wiggins got the news in a 6:30 a.m. wake-up call from her publisher. Wiggins, who said she was "incredulous" at the news, immediately went for a walk on the beach to clear her head. "Geez, the jury is all people in your field, so this is a wonderful pat on the back," she said. "And the company is good. I mean, Shirley Hazzard! I remember reading 'The Transit of Venus' 20 years ago."
Nominated in the young people's literature category was Northern California writer Paul Fleischman for "Breakout" (Cricket Books). Fleischman's father, Sid Fleischman, was a finalist in 1979.
Winners will be announced Nov. 19 in New York. One winner in each of four categories will receive $10,000.
Here is the full list of finalists:
Young People's Literature: Paul Fleischman, "Breakout"; Polly Horvath, "The Canning Season"; Jim Murphy, "An American Plague"; Richard Peck, "The River Between Us"; Jacqueline Woodson, "Locomotion."
Fiction: T.C. Boyle, "Drop City"; Shirley Hazzard, "The Great Fire"; Edward P. Jones, "The Known World"; Scott Spencer, "A Ship Made of Paper"; Marianne Wiggins, "Evidence of Things Unseen."
Poetry: Carol Muske-Dukes, "Sparrow"; Charles Simic, "The Voice at 3:00 a.m."; Louis Simpson, "The Owner of the House"; C.K. Williams, "The Singing"; Kevin Young, "Jelly Roll."
Nonfiction: Anne Applebaum, "Gulag"; George Howe Colt, "The Big House"; John D'Emilio, "Lost Prophet"; Carlos Eire, "Waiting for Snow in Havana"; Erik Larson, "The Devil in the White City."