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English professor wins National Book Award

Nov. 18, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University English Professor Jaimy Gordon is the winner of the 2010 National Book Award for fiction.

Photo of Jaimy Gordon, Western Michigan University.Gordon's new novel "Lord of Misrule" was selected for the coveted annual prize that USA Today calls "publishing's version of the Academy Awards."

Gordon accepted the award after it was announced Nov. 17 at the gala 61st National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony in New York City. The prize in fiction has been won previously by such literary giants as William Faulkner, Saul Bellow and John Updike. It comes with a $10,000 cash award and bronze statue, but literary prestige and increased book sales are among the benefits as well.

Gordon's novel, her fourth, was published just this month by McPherson & Co. Set in the world of West Virginia horse racing in the early 1970s, the book was praised by the judges as a 'vivid, memorable and linguistically rich novel" about the rock-bottom end of the sport of kings.

Gordon, who has taught at WMU since 1981, based the novel on a world she learned about fresh out of college in the late 1960s when she took a series of jobs intended to boost her life experience. She worked for a period as a groom and hot-walker at Charles Town Race Track in West Virginia. That experience served as background as well for her short story about horseracing, "A Night's Work," which was chosen for "Best American Short Stories" in 1995.

This is the second time in as many years an author with WMU connections has been among the National Book Award finalists. Kalamazoo native Bonnie Jo Campbell, a student of Gordon's in the 1990s who earned three degrees from WMU, was named a finalist last fall for her book of short stories, "American Salvage."

Gordon, a Baltimore native, earned degrees from Antioch College and Brown University. She has published three other novels--"Bogeywoman," "Shamp of the City-Solo" and "She Drove Without Stopping." The latter, often described as a woman's road novel, was an American Library Association Notable Book for 1990; in 1991, Gordon won an Academy-Institute Award for her fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. "Bogeywoman" made the Los Angeles Times list of the Best Fiction of 2000.

Gordon also has published a novella, poetry, masques, short stories and essays. She has won a number of other awards for her work. They include grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and being named a fellow at both the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center and the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College.

Established in 1950 by publishers, editors, writers and critics, the National Book Awards were conceived as an award given to writers by writers. The American Book Publisher's Council, the Book Manufacturers' Institute, and the American Booksellers' Association jointly sponsored the Awards, bringing together the American literary community to honor the year's best work in fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The awards quickly established a reputation for recognizing literary excellence.

For 2010, there were more than 300 books submitted for the National Book Award in the fiction category. To learn more about the competition and judges and to read an extended interview with Gordon about her book, visit the National Book Foundation online.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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