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Book News: Former Factory Worker Wins $100,000 Poetry Prize

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Afaa Michael Weaver's poetry collection The Government of Nature has won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. The prize, based at Claremont Graduate University, is awarded to a mid-career poet "to both honor the poet and provide the resources that allow artists to continue working towards the pinnacle of their craft." Chief Judge Chase Twichell said of Weaver, "His father was a sharecropper. After serving for two years in the Army, he toiled for 15 years in factories, writing poems all the while. When he learned that he'd won a National Endowment Fellowship, he quit his job and attended Brown University on a full scholarship. He essentially invented himself from whole cloth as a poet. It's truly remarkable." Afaa's devastating poem "If You Tell" begins:
  • "If you tell, the stars will turn against you,
    you will have not night but emptiness.

    If you tell, you will live in an old house
    in the desert all alone with cactus for friends.

    If you tell, people will hide their children
    from the monster others say your kind are.

    If you tell, the police will add you to the list
    of people who might have killed the albatross.

    If you tell, you will walk in a hollow room
    full of the sound of liar, liar, pants on fire."

  • Scrabble maker Hasbro is holding a contest to enter a new word into the official Scrabble Dictionary. Anyone can nominate a word online, and judges will choose 16 finalists, which will be set against each other in a March-madness style voting bracket.
  • What I Know for Sure, a book adapted from Oprah Winfrey's column of the same name in O Magazine, will be published by Flatiron Books in September. According to Flatiron, the book gives "readers a guide to becoming their best selves."
  • T Magazinevisits The Ginger Man author J. P. Donleavy:"J. P. Donleavy is, arguably, the funniest living American novelist, but the circumstances of his life and work require a person making that argument to qualify and amplify and clarify certain facts. For instance, J. P. Donleavy is not dead. At 87, he lives a bit like a genial hermit, a bit like a gentleman farmer. He looks a lot like a stately imp, in his red bucket hat and green flannel shirt, as he sits with his back to a fireplace spilling ages of ashes into the kitchen of his stone manor-house at Levington Park, a rambling estate 50-odd miles west of Dublin. Out on the acreage, four dozen cows graze beneath the gray bowl of the sky."
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Annalisa Quinn is a contributing writer, reporter, and literary critic for NPR. She created NPR's Book News column and covers literature and culture for NPR.