When authors attack
In case you never thought of "National Book Awards" and "Are you ready to rumble?" simultaneously...
I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat to know which middle-aged white man will win this year's National Book Award tonight, but I do wish I'd been at the National Book Award finalist reading last night when (according to Critical Mass) "extra-textual political reverberations turned into fire-works." Or at least as fiery as the works ever get at a prestigious-to-the-point-of-sphincter-Olympics events like this.
Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass kicked things off by commenting on how odd it was to have such an event without any mention of "this war," and how demoralized he was by living in a country where discussion means a "gingerly conversation about whether we should or should not torture our enemies." It wasn't completely off-topic question, given that the uncle of Edwidge Danticat -- the subject of her NBA finalist, "Brother, I'm Dying," -- died in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security due to the treatment he received upon entering the U.S. from Haiti seeking a political asylum visa. (It's worth noting this potential terrorist was a man in his 80s with a tracheotomy).
Hass' remarks earned applause, but also a follow-up from the next reader, Christopher Hitchens, who was "appalled" that this night could go on without mention of "our victory over the forces of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," (an oddly retro-Biblical word for someone arguing against religion, but hey) which caused immediate boos and then hisses. "Do you know how you sound?" Hitchens asked the crowd when it increased. "It is the sound of mediocrity."
Um...ouch? Sorry, Hitch, I've seen guys smacked down smarter than that by my little ballerina daughter.
My longtime crush, Sherman Alexie, got in the best shot of the evening, saying about the audience hissing: "It always sounds to me like the sound of white liberal dreams escaping."