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Another book award scandalBY: Dan Rottenberg 10.18.2011
An author has been asked to withdraw from the shortlist for the National Book Awards, five days after she was mistakenly named a finalist by the National Book Foundation. Which leaves just one question: Why do people take awards so seriously?
Stop the presses! Another award scandal!DAN ROTTENBERG
Tuesday’s New York Times reports that an author was asked to withdraw from the shortlist for the National Book Awards on Monday, five days after she was mistakenly named a finalist by the National Book Foundation.
“I was over the moon last week,” the Times quoted Lauren Myracle, author of Shine, a novel about a gay teenager who is the victim of a hate crime. Then Myracle said she was told that Shine had been included in error but would remain on the list on its merits, whatever that means. Then she said she was asked to withdraw “to preserve the integrity of the award and the judges’ work, and I have agreed to do so.”
Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, helpfully explained that “I feel terrible personally, and I feel terrible for Lauren… Believe me, it won’t happen again.” As a consolation prize, the foundation agreed to donate $5,000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which advocates for gay youth.
Augenbraum declined to explain how Shine was erroneously included on the five-book shortlist, or how the five-book shortlist was erroneously expanded to six books after the first error was discovered. Nor did he or the Times address what to me is the germane question here:
Why do people take awards so seriously?
Among its many embarrassments, the Pulitzer Prize has been awarded to a Stalin propagandist (Walter Duranty of the New York Times, in 1932), to a spot news reporter who got the critical details of his story demonstrably wrong (Thomas Fitzpatrick of the Chicago Sun-Times, 1970, for coverage of Chicago’s Weatherman riots), and to the perpetrator of an outright hoax (Janet Cooke of the Washington Post, in 1981).
Three mostly unremarkable baseball players (Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance of the Chicago Cubs) were admitted to the Hall of Fame in 1946 primarily on the strength of a catchy poem written about them in 1910 by the newspaper columnist Franklin P. Adams (not to mention a more immediate boost provided by the fictitious O’Brien-to-Ryan-to-Goldberg double play combination portrayed by Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin in the 1944 movie musical, Take Me Out to the Ballgame).
The National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal— ostensibly designed to honor “men and women of courage who have strived to secure the blessings of liberty to people the world over”— has lately been bestowed upon show-business celebrities (like Steven Spielberg and Bono) or, as our BSR contributor Robert Zaller reminds me, “either to chief executives who have dragged their countries into undeclared wars (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Tony Blair) or those who’ve served, directly or indirectly, as their handlers, enablers or colonial beneficiaries (Colin Powell, Sandra Day O’Connor, Hamid Karzai).”
As for the Nobel Peace Prize— last time I checked, the 2009 recipient was busy utilizing drone attacks to dispatch enemies of world peace, an ingenious approach to passive resistance that somehow never occurred to less sophisticated peacemakers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Roots of my bitterness
For the sake of full disclosure, I should reveal my personal stake in this issue. Perhaps you saw the Associated Press story in last week’s Inquirer:
NEW YORK— Herman Rottenberg, a retired international dance impresario, announced that he had asked his son Dan to withdraw from the shortlist for his coveted “My Favorite Redheaded Son” award, five days after his son Dan was mistakenly named a finalist.
“I was over the moon last week,” said Dan Rottenberg, a Philadelphia-based author and editor of a quirky online arts and culture forum. “I was later informed that I had been included in error, but would remain on the list based on my merits. However, on Friday I was asked to withdraw to preserve the integrity of the award, and I have agreed to do so.”
Herman Rottenberg declined to explain how his son Dan had been included on the shortlist. He also declined to identify any other redheaded sons he might have fathered.
“All I can say is, I feel terrible personally, and I feel terrible for Dan,” he told reporters. “Believe me, this won’t happen again. But given my faltering short-term memory at age 95, it very well might.”
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