Wells Tower went home last night with the New York Public Library’s Young Lion Fiction Award.
Presumably because he’s been nominated for several awards and not won, a friend of his whom I spoke to at the event said that he invited her by asking if she’d want to come to an awards ceremony to see him not win. But then we agreed that being selected for The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list recently was also a good thing, like an award.
The award, founded by Young Lions Co-Chair Ethan Hawke and given annually each spring to a writer 35-and-under for a novel or collection of short stories, was also celebrating its tenth anniversary. Hollywood actors including Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hamilton and Emily Mortimer gave all-star readings to all five finalists—Jedediah Berry, Katie Kitamura, Philipp Meyer, C.E. Morgan, and Wells Tower.
Ethan Hawke, decked in an off-white suit and brown suede Clarks opened by speaking of the meaning of the award: “It’s hard to know why [writing] always matters.” The award is in part “to say it matters and to say we care.” Of the five writers who’d been selected as finalists, Hawke added to further illustrate that care, that having been a finalist means “someone fought [for you] with somebody else who didn’t like your book.” This drew laughter from the audience. He spoke off-the-cuff and said he berated himself in the car-ride over for, yet again, not preparing a speech. Yet he spoke from the heart and made an endearing entreaty for the preservation not only of the library, but of the art of fiction.
After the readings, and before presenting the award, the president of the New York Public Library, Paul LeClerc announced that in November Ethan Hawke would become a Library Lion, the highest honor the library bequeathes. He noted that over the course of the ten years, Hawke had raised roughly $140,000. “You’re the outstanding guy,” he said. LeClerc also gave Hawke a set of each of the books that had won the award in the ten years prior, each signed for him by its author.
LeClerc then proceeded to announce the winner, Wells Tower, and present him with a check for $10,000 (Hear Tower read a story at Paris Review Audio). Each of the finalists received $1000. Preceding the event was a reception with Ferrari Spumante champagne and hors d’oeuvres with many of New York’s publishing community in attendance including David Haglund, Rachel Fershleiser, Georgia Cool and Allison Lorentzen.
To the right is Ethan Hawke’s copy of C.E. Morgan’s book All the Living, which he read from. It has Hawke’s yellow Post-It Note, indicating where he should start reading. It says “Start.”
The full list of finalists for the 2010 Young Lions Fiction Award were:
Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection (The Penguin Press)
Katie Kitamura, The Longshot (Free Press)
Philipp Meyer, American Rust (Spiegel and Grau)
C.E. Morgan, All the Living (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Wells Tower, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)