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National Book Awards look widely for finalists

October 16, 2008|Carolyn Kellogg | Special to The Times

The finalists for the National Book Award in fiction, announced Wednesday at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, offered an interesting mix of newcomers and veterans.

Rachel Kushner, a Los Angeles writer, and Salvatore Scibona have both been nominated for their first novels: "Telex From Cuba" and "The End," respectively. Aleksandar Hemon received a 2004 MacArthur "Genius" Grant yet is also a relative newcomer; "The Lazarus Project" is his second novel (he's also published a collection of short fiction).

At the other end of the spectrum is the prolific 81-year-old Peter Matthiessen, who has written more than 20 books of nonfiction and 10 of fiction. "Shadow Country" is a hefty "new rendering" of three of these earlier novels.

And falling somewhere in between is Marilynne Robinson, a writer in her 60s with just two books of nonfiction and three novels to her credit, and who practically fills her shelves with awards each time she publishes fiction. (Her 2004 novel "Gilead" won a Pultizer.) She was nominated for "Home."

Winners, each of whom receives $10,000, will be announced Nov. 19. Honorary prizes will be given to author Maxine Hong Kingston and publisher Barney Rosset. Other nominations announced by the nonprofit National Book Foundation:

Nonfiction: Drew Gilpin Faust, "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War"; Annette Gordon-Reed, "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family"; Jane Mayer, "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals"; Jim Sheeler, "Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives"; Joan Wickersham, "The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order."

Poetry: Frank Bidart, "Watching the Spring Festival"; Mark Doty, "Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems"; Reginald Gibbons, "Creatures of a Day"; Richard Howard, "Without Saying"; Patricia Smith, "Blood Dazzler."

Young people's literature: Laurie Halse Anderson, "Chains"; Kathi Appelt, "The Underneath"; Judy Blundell, "What I Saw and How I Lied"; E. Lockhart, "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks"; Tim Tharp, "The Spectacular Now."

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