Denis Johnson, the author of Jesus’ Son and Tree of Smoke among other great works of quasi-Beat genius, died a couple weeks back at the age of 67.
Although his rehab-stippled talent took a while to be recognized, he finally won the National Book Award back in 2007. In a blessedly brief interview about that award, he gave one of the best bits of writing advice ever. In response to the question of who his ideal reader or audience was, he responded:
Coates went on to say this about the book, which is structured as a letter to his son:
I’m a black man in America. I can’t punish that officer; Between the World and Me comes out of that place. I can’t secure the safety of my son. I just don’t have that power. But what I do have the power to do is say, ‘You won’t enroll me in this lie. You won’t make me part of it.’
So here’s who didn’t show at Wednesday night’s National Book Awards dinner at Cipriani in Manhattan: Thomas Pynchon. Never mind that his Bleeding Edge was one of the finalists for fiction, the man just doesn’t do award ceremonies. Or interviews. Or much of anything, besides you know, living and writing.
James McBride (The Color of Water) took the fiction prize in an upset win for his Good Lord Bird and George Packer very deservedly won for The Unwinding (my review is here).
Also at the dinner was E.L. Doctorow, who received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (nice title, that). According to the Times, Doctorow gave the evening a resolutely analog spin:
[Doctorow] cooled the mood down with a somber speech on technology, government surveillance and the Internet. (Somewhat uncomfortably, Amazon.com and Google were sponsors of the event.)
“Text is now a verb,” Mr. Doctorow said. “More radically, a search engine is not an engine. A platform is not a platform. A bookmark is not a bookmark because an e-book is not a book.”