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August 17, 2022

McDermott makes National Book Award fiction longlist

By JENNA MCLAUGHLIN | October 3, 2013

On Sept. 19, the University’s Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities, Alice McDermott, was nominated for the National Book Award longlist for fiction. This is the first time the Foundation has presented a longlist, and McDermott is one of 10 notable contenders for the award.

Her most recent work, Someone, is the subject of the National Book Foundation’s nomination. The novel, which follows the tale of an ordinary woman born in pre-World War II Brooklyn, is McDermott’s seventh book and her third nomination for the National Book Award.

The National Book Award has been celebrating the best writers in fiction for over 60 years, with names such as Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and Ralph Ellison among its ranks of winners. The final winner is selected by a committee of five panelists, which is comprised of notable and successful writers.

McDermott acknowledges that she is in impressive company for the award. She is up against Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri for her novel The Lowland and Anthony Marra for his debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, among others.

“What a lot of wonderful books have been published this year,” McDermott said. “I can’t even begin to think about [winning].”

McDermott joined the Hopkins Writing Seminars Department in 1996, but her prestigious history of nominations and awards dates back well before she reached the Homewood Campus. She has been nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction twice before — once in 1987 and again in 1988.

McDermott has also been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize three times. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Mademoiselle and The New York Times.

“This is a ‘quiet’ book, but complex in its own way,” McDermott said. “The complexity is easy to miss if the reader isn’t willing to attend to what goes on within each scene and sentence.”

McDermott has been pleased not only with the nomination and reviews for her new novel, but also with the dedicated readership that Someone has received.

“I’ve been delighted and grateful, to find so many careful readers who are willing to enter a story that promises no pyrotechnics,” she said.

McDermott is currently teaching a graduate-level fiction workshop at the University, which she facilitates thorough discussion and peer review of student manuscripts. McDermott has a lot of wisdom to offer her students and all aspiring writers.

“I suppose I have hours and hours of advice, or at least a semester’s worth,” she said. “The simplest one is read — read everything, read constantly. Nurture your delight in the written word.”

It is this delight in language that McDermott believes attracts young writers to Hopkins, and part of the reason that the Writing Seminars program has received so much critical acclaim. She speaks about Hopkins with much fondness.

“We’ve got a great writing program, with a great faculty, at a great University,” McDermott said. “What young writer wouldn’t want to attend?”

On Oct. 16, McDermott, the University community and the literary world will discover whether or not she remains in the running for the award.

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