On Monday night, PEN Center USA held its 22nd annual Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Joyce Carol Oates was presented with a lifetime achievement award -- although with her history of writing novels, short fiction, criticism, nonfiction and memoir, plus her longtime Princeton professorship, she might deserve more than one award for lifetime achievement.
Accepting her award, the soft-spoken Oates told a story about learning to write -- well, scribble -- before she could even speak. "This has been a dazzling evening," she told the crowd.
The winners of the awards had been announced before the dinner, so "Homeland" writers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon (who, with Gideon Raff, won the Teleplay Award) had plenty of time to prepare a speech. Gansa spun a tale of being an ambitious young writer at Princeton who sweated over and perfected 11 pages to show his writing adviser, who told him, "These aren't good enough, are they?" The advisor, of course, was Oates, who hid her face as he recited her criticism.
But that wasn't all -- Oates gave him a copy of "The Adventures of Augie March" to read, and Gansa quickly became obsessed with Saul Bellow. He blathered on about all who would listen about Bellow, until finally someone told him there was another student on campus also obsessed with him. That student? Howard Gordon, who was standing beside Gansa on stage. They've been friends and writing partners ever since -- and recently won two Emmy Awards.
Other award winners included Morgan Entrekin, publisher of Grove/Atlantic; journalist Ben Ehrenriech; playwright Michelle Carter; muckraker Robert Scheer; and nonfiction writer Candice Millard.
About a week before, the Southern California Independent Booksellers Assn. held its annual awards at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. According to Publishers Weekly, the winners included John Klassen for his children's picture book "I Want My Hat Back"; Brian Selznick for his children's novel "Wonderstruck"; and Laura Pulido for her nonfiction book, "A People's Guide to Los Angeles." Don Winslow's "Kings of Cool" took the T. Jefferson Parker Award for Mystery and the Glenn Goldman Award for Art and Architecture book went to "Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles Art, 1945-1980" by Rebecca Peabody, Andrew Perchuck, Glenn Phillips, Rani Singh and Lucy Bradnock. The L.A. Times' Hector Tobar took the award for fiction with his novel "The Barbarian Nurseries."
Tobar has been announced as the recipient of another award, the Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature from UC Santa Barbara. Tobar will be presented with a plaque commemorating the award at a public ceremony on Oct. 31.