Literary awards may not have a Kanye West in the mix to disrupt their ceremonies, but it’s still been a strangely controversial year for book prizes. Earlier this month, a Serbian group punked several news outlets into thinking that their own Dobrica Cosic had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And now, the National Book Award has a pretty embarrassing situation on its hands, too — and in the Young People’s Literature category, of all places.
The trouble started after last week’s initial announcement of the 2011 finalists, when the National Book Foundation amended the news with word that there would be six finalists in for Young People’s Lit this year and added Franny Billingsley’s Chime to the list. It turns out that Chime was always meant to be a nominee, but Lauren Myracle’s Shine was mistakenly included instead. As humiliating as that news was for both Myracle and the NBF, it looks like the award administrators have made the situation even worse. Although Myracle was originally told that she could keep her nomination, she has released a statement removing herself from the running. “[O]n Friday I was asked to withdraw by the National Book Foundation (NBF) to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work, and I have agreed to do so,” Myracle writes.
In an interview with the industry site Publishers Lunch this morning, NBF executive director Harold Augenbraum accepted the blame for the error. “We made a terrible mistake,” he said. “From the very beginning we acknowledged that a mistake was made. We regret the hurt that it caused Lauren. It’s none of her doing. On behalf of the Foundation, I apologize. [Myracle's] work is very good. [W]hat more can I say?” He also promised that such a gaffe would “never happen again.”
What’s particularly sad about this controversy is that it’s totally undermined what a nomination for Myracle’s book would have symbolized. Shine is a young adult novel about a girl whose gay best friend is the victim of a heinous hate crime. As Myracle writes, if had been shortlisted for the prize, it would have meant that “the NBF was giving voice to the thousands of disenfranchised youth in America — particularly gay youth — who face massive discrimination and intimidation every day.” In response to the author’s suggestion, the NBF has donated $5,000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation by way of apology — so at least some good has come out of their hurtful mistake.