Thursday, November 15
Last night Denis Johnson and Robert Hass were awarded 2007 National Book Awards in fiction and poetry, respectively, at a ceremony hosted by the National Book Foundation.
Denis Johnson, a Workshop alumnus, won the award in fiction for Tree of Smoke, an epic novel about the Vietnam War. Johnson is currently in Iraq for a magazine assignment, and his wife, Cindy Lee, accepted the award on his behalf. She opened an envelope labeled "just in case," and read his acceptance speech; he wrote that he was “very sorry to miss this chance to dress up in a tuxedo in front of the literary world and say thank you.”
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass received the award for poetry for his book, Time and Materials: Poems, 1997 - 2005. Robert Hass has taught as a visiting Workshop faculty member three times in the last five years, most recently in Fall, 2006.
When recently asked, in an interview for the National Book Foundation web site, if the collection came together slowly, Hass replied,
"Sometimes poems come slowly in the sense that I live with them in a dissatisfied condition until I finally get what I was after, or what the poem was after. Sometimes they come very quickly in a first rush, then it takes months for the work of the poem to finish itself. I don’t know that it’s so much that I’m slow but that I’m also very distractible. There was quite a stretch in which I needed some quiet time to look at the work I’d been doing and see if I could make a book out of it, and I was able to do that last fall in Iowa City. It’s very exciting work—it’s kind of like writing poems—trying to put a book together."
His acceptance speech was characteristically generous; he praised the work of the other poets nominated in his category and concluded, "I feel a little bit rude that I'm up here and they're not."
For more information:
The National Book Foundation
Read the first chapter of Tree of Smoke
Listen to Denis Johnson read from Tree of Smoke
Biography, excerpts, audio recordings of Robert Hass at the Poetry Foundation web site