January 27, 2004
Two Stanford professors' books nominated for top literary award
Books by two Stanford English professors are in the running for a National Book Critics Circle Award, one of the country's most prestigious literary prizes.
Old School (Knopf) by Tobias Wolff, who teaches creative writing, has been nominated in the fiction category. It will be judged against Monica Ali's Brick Lane, Edward P. Jones' The Known World, Caryl Phillips' A Distant Shore and Richard Powers' The Time of Our Singing.
Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) by Carol Loeb Shloss, a visiting professor at Stanford, has been nominated in the category for biography and autobiography. It's up against four other nominations: A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey; The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie; Jonathan Edwards by George Marsden; and Khrushchev: The Man and His Era by William Taubman.
The winners will be announced March 4 during the National Book Critics Circle's 30th annual award ceremony in New York City.
In Old School, an unnamed narrator recalls his formative years at an elite East Coast boys' school, where literary-minded students periodically compete in writing contests for the privilege of meeting privately with famous authors, such as Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway, who periodically visit the campus. In an effort to win the contest that would grant him a solo audience with Hemingway, the protagonist, an aspiring writer who is hungry for recognition, resorts to an act of deception.
In Lucia Joyce, Shloss sets out to rescue James Joyce's daughter, a once-promising dancer who spent more than half her life in mental hospitals, from obscurity. From an early age, Lucia suffered from strabismus (meaning she was cross-eyed) and a deracinated life dominated by her father's literary ambitions. She took up dancing in her mid-teens but eventually gave it up, or perhaps was pressured to do so; Shloss cites a remark by Helen Fleischman, who married Lucia's brother, asserting that Lucia was hounded by her mother, Nora, to quit dancing.
Shloss argues that not only has Lucia been unfairly dismissed as a madwoman but also that she meant much more to her father's art than she has received credit for -- indeed, that father and daughter shared a kind of artistic symbiosis: "There are two artists in this room, and both of them are working. Joyce is watching and learning. The two communicate with a secret, unarticulated voice. The writing of the pen, the writing of the body become a dialogue of artists, performing and counterperforming, the pen, the limbs writing away."
Wolff is the author of the memoirs This Boy's Life and In Pharaoh's Army, the novella The Barracks Thief and three collections of short stories: In the Garden of the North American Martyrs, Back in the World and The Night in Question. He has received numerous literary awards, including the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He holds the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professorship at Stanford.
Shloss, who teaches courses on modern literature and cinema, is the author of Flannery O'Connor's Dark Comedies, In Visible Light: Photography and the American Writer and Gentlemen Photographers. She has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mellon Foundation. She is married to Robert Polhemus, the Joseph S. Atha Professor in Humanities and chair of the Department of English.