Shine On: Lauren Myracle and the National Book Award Debacle
Author: TS Ferguson
October 20, 2011
Imagine you wrote a book and it was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Imagine the excitement you would feel getting the phone call telling you that your words are being recognized for their literary excellence. Now imagine finding out you were nominated by accident because your book’s title sounds similar to the one that was actually supposed to be nominated. That’s what happened to Lauren Myracle last week. Myracle, a New York Times bestselling author of middle grade and young adult novels, was named as a Young People’s Literature finalist for her latest novel, Shine, about a girl who struggles to find the truth in small town North Carolina after her best guy friend falls victim to a brutal hate crime.
But only hours after finalists were announced, news had spread that Shine had been accidentally named in place of another title, Chime by Franny Billingsley. What followed was a PR nightmare, with the National Book Foundation first deciding to keep both titles on the shortlist and later asking Myracle to withdraw herself as a finalist.
This is where the reporting ends and I butt in with my unasked-for opinion. There’s not much I can say now that hasn’t already been said, in interviews, on blogs , and most especially on Twitter, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing anyway.
I was in the middle of reading Shine for Lambda (review to come soon) when it was announced as a finalist. I don’t know Lauren Myracle personally, nor had I ever read one of her books before, but I was overjoyed when I heard the news. There’s something deeply exciting (and a bit validating) about being in the middle of a book you are enjoying and hearing it is being honored for its excellence. And when I then heard about the mix-up and the fact that the NBF was letting Shine remain on the list, my first thought was how much this must suck for Lauren Myracle. I saw two possible outcomes: Shine wins the YA Award and the honor is tarnished by the thought that she wasn’t meant to be nominated at all OR Shine doesn’t win and there is a sense that Myracle never had a shot because she wasn’t originally nominated. Neither scenario is ideal and my empathy was with this author who had just been publicly punched in the heart, so to speak. But when it was announced earlier this week that the National Book Foundation had asked Myracle to recuse herself from the list, I grew livid.
I felt like a spectator watching something extremely uncomfortable unfold. Not only had the National Book Awards made this horrible mistake, but now they were expecting the author to fix their mistakes for them. The party line was that this decision had been made in order to preserve “the integrity of the award”, but if that was the case, I can’t help but wonder why the National Book Award Foundation hadn’t corrected their mistake right away, rather than allow Shine to remain on the list.
Amidst all of this scandal, there are some things to remember. While the National Book Foundation has made all the wrong decisions in reaction to this debacle, we shouldn’t overlook the five finalists that remain on the list for Young People’s Literary: the aforementioned Chime, My Name is Not Easy by Debbie Dahl Edwardson, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin, and Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt. It is also important to remember that, while it did not make the original, pre-announcement shortlist, Shine is still a beautifully written book about an important topic, and there is some good that has come out of Lauren Myracle’s pain. In response to their mistake, and in response to the themes of hate crimes and anti-gay bullying in Shine, the National Book Foundation has agreed to donate $5000 to the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Readers on Twitter have also been posting their support for Myracle and encouraging each other to buy a copy of Shine as a response to the mix-up. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the numerous readers who may never have heard of Shine if not for this mix-up. I’ll end on a heart-warming note, from a user on Twitter (one of the author’s favorite responses) as quoted on thehuffingtonpost.com:
As a gay boy living in NC, thank you for Shine, which I wldn’t have known about w/o the screw-up. You may have saved my life. –@anonymous