National Book Award Y Que
Ah, another round of the wonderful National Book Award has come and gone. I was lucky enough to be a judge in the year Timothy Egan won for non-fiction. We judges got 750 books each--so many books, my little one built a fort with them. Yeah, I was a judge, but I've never been nominated.

No! Nope--no sour grapes. I might not have merited a nomination, let's face it. But not everybody gets in the running. For example, Latinos. They don't.

Oops. Did I say that? Did I say that NBA could mean "No Beaners Allowed"? (I can say "beaner," see, 'cause I was born in Tijuana.) Cinderella and I caused a minor fluff-up of feathers and attitudes over on Twitter when we noted this trend. But I thought it would be instructive to take a look at it. (People say, "But Junot was a judge this year!" Yeah, and neither Drown NOR Oscar Wao, everybody's favorite books, was a finalist in its year.)

This is in no way meant to take anything away from the winners this year. Colum McCann. Dude! One of my favorite people, and if you followed the Aspen "Wastelander" writings (in the blog archive), you know he's a swell and hilarious guy as well as a handsome lad and a fine writer. My most cherished Colum moment in Aspen was at 7:00 in the morning. He came walking through the trees with his trademark scarf, a bottle of wine, a bottle of whiskey, and a bag of chocolates. When I started laughing, he said, "What?"

Rock star all the way.

However, if you look up the NBA lists--not of winners, mind you, just of finalists-- you'll see what I'm talking about. NOT A SINGLE LATINA OR LATINO FINALIST IN FICTION SINCE 1995. And only three Latina/o nominees in fiction over the last 20 years: Rosario Ferre for The House on the Lagoon (1995), Cristina Garcia for Dreaming in Cuban (1992) and Felipe Alfau for Chromos (1990). Uh, hmm.

That means no Latina/o writer was worthy between 1994 (the prize covers the previous year) and 2009. Really? No, I mean, really? Seriously?

I am not going to say all Latina/o writing is great. I am not even going to say it is all good. I don't like many of the books. I don't particularly like a few of the authors. However, if you take a quick look at the overlooked writers (just some of them) since 1994, you can reach your own conclusions. I don't know what it means. I just find it curious. Good for a conversation over a beer or during half-time or after the next episode of GLEE.

Yeah, what the hell--I'll throw my own name in there. I ain't proud. Check it:

Kathleen Alcala,
Julia Alvarez,
Rudolfo Anaya,
Oscar Casares,
Ana Castillo,
Denise Chavez,
Daniel Chacon,
Sandra Cisneros,
Junot Diaz,
Guy Garcia,
Dagoberto Gilb,
Francisco Goldman,
Ray Gonzalez,
Ana Menendez,
Manuel Munoz,
Daniel Olivas,
Benjamin Alire Saenz,
Virgil Suarez,
Ludwig Aethelbert Urias,
Alfredo Vea,
Victor Villasenor,
Helena Maria Viramontes,
Rich Yanez.

You could play all night. Now, obscurity is not the problem--the NBA is proud of its obscure choices. Success isn't the prob--several of these writers/books have done quite well. Do the judges think these are not Americans? (Oh, wait--my man Colum is Irish.) Quality, perhaps? (Alvarez? Cisneros? Gilb? Goldman? Viramontes? Et al?) No, I doubt it.

What, then?

One thing's for sure: every year somebody's going to complain about the NBA. If it isn't the choices selected, it's the meal at the banquet. Ours was rubber chicken with melted library paste--but the tuxes looked sweet. So, Lord knows, I won't criticize.

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