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Cheer up, Oscars: Award mix-ups have happened in literature, too

It’s the nightmare scenario for any awards program, and Sunday night at the Academy Awards, it came true: An envelope mix-up led Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to announce that “La La Land” had won best picture, instead of the actual winner, “Moonlight.”

It was the biggest blunder in the history of the Oscars. But the show’s producers can take some comfort: It’s happened to literary awards, too.

In 2011, the finalists for the National Book Awards were announced on a radio broadcast. Among the five nominees in the Young People’s Literature category was “Shine,” a mystery novel by Lauren Myracle about the near-fatal beating of a gay teenage boy in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, Myracle hadn’t actually made the shortlist. A National Book Foundation employee misheard the title of the book in a telephone conversation: The actual finalist was “Chime,” a novel about a young witch, written by Franny Bilingsley.

The horrified National Book Foundation initially decided there would be six finalists in the category that year, including “Shine.” Later they asked Myracle to voluntarily withdraw her book from the shortlist, which she did.

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The prize ended up going to “Inside Out & Back Again,” Thanhha Lai’s novel about a young refugee from Vietnam.

A similar situation unfolded in the United Kingdom in 2008, when Welsh Culture Minister Rhodri Glyn Thomas announced at a ceremony that Tom Bullough’s novel “The Claude Glass” had won the Wales Book of the Year.

It had not. Thomas misread the card with the winner’s name, only correcting himself when Bullough was about to step onto the stage to collect his award.

The actual winner of the prize was Dannie Abse for his memoir “The Presence.”

Bullough wasn’t amused by the mix-up."I am truly not somebody given to complaining, but that was cruel,” he wrote on his blog. “It was cruel because it was shoddy. It cannot be put down simply to accident. As one person said to me last night, it wouldn’t have happened at the Oscars.”

Or so one would think.


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