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9/11 report leads finalists for National Book Awards
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Garrison Keillor, right, hosted the ceremony announcing award nominees. Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, is at left. (MPR Photo/Greta Cunningham)
The 20 finalists for the National Book Awards were announced Wednesday from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. It's the first time the list of finalists has been presented outside of New York City. For the first time in the National Book Award's 55-year history, all five of the fiction finalists are women. In another surprising move, the 9/11 Commission Report from the federal government is nominated in the non-fiction category.

St. Paul, Minn. — This is not the first time a federal government report has been nominated for a National Book Award. In 1973 the report on the prison uprising at the Attica State Correctional Facility in upstate New York was one of the award finalists.

The executive director of the National Book Foundation, Harold Augenbraum, says in his opinion, the 9/11 Commission report has some literary value. He points to the fact that the Commissioners worked with a copy editor from the publisher.

"But the 9/11 Commission itself did all the writing, worked on the editing and sent it to the printer," said Augenbraum. "Literally, the final product was sent down to the printer five days before it was to come out in the bookstores."

The four other nominees in the non-fiction category range from a book about George Washington crossing the Delaware to the influence of William Shakespeare.

Minnesota author Pete Hautman is nominated in the young people's literature category for his book, "godless." It tells the story of a boy who invents a religion with a new god -- the town's water tower.

Hautman's book is up against four other finalists in the Young Person's category, including a book about transgender issues, and another covering the history of the Harlem Renaissance.

This year's nominees in the fiction category are Shara Shunlien Bynum, Christine Schutt, Joan Silber, Lily Tuck and Kate Walbert.

"One thinks of the great American writers as male in many cases. But the fact that women could dominate the category is interesting in itself, and the fact that they're all from New York is also an interesting thing -- and completely unexpected," Augenbraum said.

To show that the National Book Awards are not just a New York publishing event, he names of the finalists for the first time were announced outside of New York City, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

A Prairie Home Companion host and novelist Garrison Keillor announced the finalists.

"This award may be all the push that you need to really put your career up over the ridge, and make the dean of the college pick up the phone and invite you to lunch and may rescue you from despair," he said.

In addition to the nominees in fiction and non-fiction, Keillor announced five nominees in poetry; they included Donald Justice for his collected poems. The nomination is bittersweet because the poet died just two months ago.

The winners will be announced November 17 in New York City by Garrison Keillor.

"I enjoy watching other people attempt to be cool when, in fact, you can see the veins beating on the sides of their necks and their temples and they're perspiring lightly," he said.

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