Thursday, November 18, 2010

Michigan cleans up at National Book Awards

The National Book Awards Ceremony was last night, and our pleasant peninsula was well represented. Jaimy Gordon, an English professor at Western Michigan University, won for fiction and Patti Smith, the rocker who raised her family in St. Clair Shores, won for nonfiction.

I haven't read Gordon's Lord of Misrule yet, but I enjoyed her second novel, She Drove Without Stopping, in which her protagonist embodies a frank, modern young womanhood so familiar in real life yet still so rare in literature. Lord of Misrule sounds like a different animal entirely, but I'm looking forward to seeing how her talent translates to a new subject matter.

Smith's Just Kids is a perfect storm of pop culture, literary talent and heart-felt candor. She reflects on her artistic coming-of-age through the lens of her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, considering the cultural events and personal decisions that lead to her eventual domestic bliss (and musical superstardom) and his death of AIDS in 1989.

I had the pleasure of hearing Smith speak and sing at the Borders in downtown Ann Arbor last March. She read a passage from her book about the photo shoot with Mapplethorpe for the iconic cover of her first album. "The only thing I promised Robert was that I would wear a clean shirt with no stains on it," she read. Smith looked over her reading glasses to the audience. "That's no small thing, then and now," she explained.

I fell in love with her right then.

1 comment:

  1. One of my old coworkers at Knopf signed up the paperback rights to Lord of Misrule and Gordon's next book a few weeks ago - a major coup. We started as assistants in the same department the same week. He obviously was the shining star.