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Book News: Claire Vaye Watkins Wins The Dylan Thomas Prize

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • This year's Dylan Thomas Prize has gone to Claire Vaye Watkins for her debut story collection Battleborn. The prize, aimed at encouraging "raw creative talent worldwide," is restricted to writers under 30 and is worth £30,000 (about $48,000). It's the latest of several major prizes for the 29-year-old writer, who in March won the $10,000 Rosenthal Family Foundation Award and the $20,000 Story Prize on the same day. She told Fresh Air that her stories, set in the American West, were inspired by her childhood in Nevada: "I always say I exist in a constant state of homesickness, and that's really the context in which I wrote this book, too. You know, I wrote it five months after my mom committed suicide and about three months after leaving the West for the first time to go study [at graduate school] in Ohio, and there was this landscape of grief and homesickness. I'd never written a word about Nevada until then, and I think suddenly being removed from my home and missing, you know, the mountains and the stars and the dry air and the rocks and the spiny plants, just this tremendous, overwhelming homesickness, which surely had to do with my mom's dying, I guess I kind of felt the need to conjure up Nevada and bring it back to me that way." She was also connected to the desert by her father, Paul Watkins, who had been a member of the Manson "Family." She wrote in an essay for Granta, "My father first came to Death Valley because Charles Manson told him to. He always did what Charlie said; that was what it meant to be in The Family. The desert my father knew then was a place of dune buggies and doomsday, a wasteland accessible only by four-wheel drive, where even Helter Skelter couldn't find him."
  • BuzzFeed has hired Isaac Fitzgerald, formerly of McSweeney's, to be its new books editor. Fitzgerald told Poynter he won't run negative reviews: "Why waste breath talking smack about something?" (Though it would be shame to miss out on Alexandra Petri's cheerful mauling of Sebastian Faulks' Jeeves and Wooster remake in The Washington Post: "Faulks has a good handle on Wodehouse's rhythm — IF SOMEONE TAKES THIS HALF OF THE SENTENCE AND USES IT AS A BLURB I WILL HAVE YOUR GUTS FOR GARTERS — if not his music.")
  • The shortlist for the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award includes Woody Guthrie, Manil Suri and Susan Choi, among others. The prize was founded in 1993 to discourage the "crude, tasteless, and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in contemporary novels." Last year's winner was Nancy Huston, who was honored for this infelicitous metaphor in her novel Infrared: "flesh, that archaic kingdom that brings forth tears and terrors, nightmares, babies and bedazzlements." In 2008, John Updike was given a lifetime achievement award. This year's winner will be announced Dec. 3.
  • Poet and Riverhead Books publicity director Jynne Dilling Martin is Antarctica's new poet in residence. After winning a National Science Foundation grant, Martin will spend six weeks living with scientists at the McMurdo research station. She tells Fast Company that she wants to take inspiration from the researchers working there: "It's sort of the opposite of Walt Whitman's famous poem about the astronomer. Whitman was kind of an asshole and has this jerky humanities position that science is a diminishment of the wonder that we feel." But Martin says that "the more you get to know how weird and wonderful these animals are actually increases the majesty and awe that you feel." In an email to NPR, she writes, "The tragedy of life in NYC is that my "nature poems" are about polar bears at a zoo so I am excited to run around with my kindred animal spirits in the Antarctic wild."
  • NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports that a hundred years after he was born, Albert Camus is still a divisive figure in France and his native Algeria: "But it's Camus politics, not his philosophy, that still makes waves in France. Though he hailed from the left, today he's embraced by conservatives. In the 1950s, Camus fell out with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and the Paris left bank literary scene after he denounced communism. Camus's stance on the Algerian war infuriated both the left and right at the time. He supported Arab aspirations for political rights, but he couldn't imagine an independent Algeria."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.