E.L. Doctorow’s “The March,” his novelization of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s bloody Civil War campaign, and Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her memoir of grief for her late husband, were among the finalists for Wednesday night’s National Book Awards.
Two of the country’s most revered poets, John Ashbery and W.S. Merwin, were also nominees. The 78-year-old Ashbery was chosen for his collection, “Where Shall I Wander,” and Merwin, also 78, for “Migration.” Between them, they have received 12 nominations for the NBA and one award, for Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.”
Walter Dean Myers, whose blunt descriptions of street life have led to frequent efforts to pull his books from libraries, was a nominee in the young people’s category for “Autobiography of My Dead Brother.” He was a finalist in 1999 for “Monster.”
Winners, each of whom receive $10,000, were to be announced at a reception at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, with Garrison Keillor hosting and honorary medals going to Norman Mailer and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Doctorow, the author of “Ragtime,” “Billy Bathgate” and other acclaimed historical novels, won the National Book Award in 1986 for “World’s Fair.” He has been a finalist four other times.
Fiction nominees this year also include Mary Gaitskill’s “Veronica,” Christopher Sorrentino’s “Trance,” Rene Steinke’s “Holy Skirts” and William T. Vollmann’s “Europe Central,” an 800-page novel about Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th century.
Besides Didion, nonfiction nominees were: Alan Burdick’s “Out of Eden,” Leo Damrosch’s “Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” Jim Dwyer’s and Kevin Flynn’s “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers” and Adam Hochschild’s “Bury the Chains.”
In poetry, finalists besides Merwin and Ashbery were Frank Bidart’s “Stardust,” Brendan Galvin’s “Habitat” and Vern Rutsala’s “The Moment’s Equation.”
Young people’s nominees included Jeanne Birdsall’s “The Penderwicks,” Adele Griffin’s “Where I Want to Be,” Chris Lynch’s “Inexcusable” and Deborah Wiles’ “Each Little Bird That Sings.”
The awards, now in their 56th year, are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses money raised by the ceremony to fund its educational programs.