The long-term view — that’s what I’m getting from this week’s announcement of Peter Matthiessen as winner of the National Book Award for fiction. I know little about his prize-winning novel, except that it is a hefty reworking and synthesis of three previous novels. I also just read that the author was nominated twice for previous awards and won the NBA in 1979 for nonfiction.

Imagine all that. Writing a huge trilogy (one that didn’t sell very well, incidentally). Puzzling over the parts that didn’t quite satisfy, according to the author. Reimagining it into a new novel. Rewriting and rewriting. Surviving and enduring as a writer all those decades. Coming back at age 81 to win a major award you won nearly thirty years ago.

It’s not really about innate talent, I’ve heard authors say, again and again. It’s about persistence.

People keep talking about the bad economy and in publishing circles, talk is that it will be harder than ever to sell a book. Well, for those of us who are anxious about breaking into print or staying in print, even in the best of times, we might learn from Matthiessen.

The winners:

Fiction — Peter Matthiessen, SHADOW COUNTRY
Nonfiction — Annette Gordon-Reed, THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO
Poetry — Mark Doty, FIRE TO FIRE
Youth — Judy Blundell, WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED

The National Book Foundation site has more info and interviews with all of the winners.

Scroll to Top