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Local connections win National Book awards!

Nov 19, 2010 10:14 am

There’s local beauty in this year’s National Book Awards, which were announced on Wednesday, November 17.

Winner for best fiction this year, Lord Of Misrule, comes from McPherson Press of Kingston. The book that became the celebrated long shot for this year’s big prize, like the horses racing in its tale of small-time horse racing in the early 1970s, is by the same novelist the small company published for their first book back in 1974, Jaimy Gordon.

And best Non-Fiction book went to rock icon/poet Patti Smith, who performed a major benefit for Friends of Hudson in 2003 that helped the local organization's successful fight against St. Lawrence Cement, now Holcim, who wanted to expand a plant in Columbia County, for her memoir "Just Kids."

Actual publication date for the Gordon tome was Monday, November 15… with books only having shipped a couple of weeks ago. Just as the awards finalists were announced in October, publisher Bruce McPherson was forced to decide how many of his works to print beyond his usual run of a couple thousand.

There’s peculiar magic at play in the way this all came about. Because it turns out that McPherson not only met Gordon when the two were still living in Providence Rhode Island (he moved to the Hudson Valley in 1977), but basically published the new book – her third novel with him (and fourth overall) – when she was still uncertain whether to let it live.

“My very old friend and first publisher Bruce McPherson, of McPherson and Company, had read the manuscript early on, and I seem to have promised him that he could have the book if I hadn’t sold it to a trade press by such-and-such a date,” she told an interviewer with the National Book Foundation at its finalists’ announcement on October 13. “By such-and-such a date, towards the end of last summer, I hadn’t even looked at the book. Bruce therefore, without another word, sent me the unrevised draft in unbound galleys.”

The result, says Gordon – who teaches at Western Michigan State in Kalamazoo, MI – was surprisingly positive, from her initial reaction to the book she’d started in the late 1990s on a writing retreat on Cape Cod to the current acclaim.

“After I recovered from my shock, I read the thing. The reckless young woman was still there, but to my relief she didn’t dominate the book, and in the meantime I had become more and more like two other major characters in Lord of Misrule, Medicine Ed and Two-Tie, lonely and childless old men deeply tired of the daily work they do, facing their last years without the protections of family,” she told the NBF. “It took me by surprise how much I liked Lord of Misrule when I read it again, just as if somebody else had written it. I even cried twice —that was when I thought I probably had something. The manuscript still needed some work, but I easily saw how to fix it.”

Gordon's novel follows five characters – “scarred and lonely dreamers in the American grain,” according to McPherson -- through a year and four races at Indian Mound Downs, downriver from Wheeling, West Virginia… one of many disappearing tracks at “the rock-bottom end of the sport of kings” where sits a “ruthless and often violent world of cheap horse racing, where trainers and jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers, loan sharks and touts are all struggling to take an edge, or prove their luck, or just survive.”

The other fiction finalists are Peter Carey's "Parrot and Olivier in America," Nicole Krauss's "Great House," Lionel Shriver's "So Much for That" and Karen Tei Yamashita's "I Hotel.”

Smith's “Just Kids” is a memoir of her relationship with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe and life in the bohemian New York of the 1960s and ’70s, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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