Last night Paul Russell became the first ever two-time winner of the Ferro-Grumley award for The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov [Kindle] twelve years after taking the prize for The Coming Storm. The novel’s tortured path to publication, rejected by major houses and caught in limbo during the protracted and prolonged demise of an independent, finally reached its happy ending at Cleis Press. Russell said in all his years of writing, Frederique Delacoste and the people at Cleis were the wisest, most careful, and most professional team he has ever known. To my mind, this wonderful, wonderful book, which is also a Lammy finalist, ought to have been published as a hardcover last spring and would have benefited enormously from a second release in a paperback. You can help create a second wave now. It’s simple: When a novel is this good, you must buy it.
We all must also get Lara Fergus’s debut winner My Sister Chaos if the judges believe it better than the excellent other nominees Mitko, Zipper Mouth, and We the Animals. In the evening’s most charming acceptance speech, Lara, who traveled from Melbourne to attend, said, “There aren’t enough lesbians in Australia. That’s not just a personal frustration” [! buy her book immediately], it’s a professional one too if you’re creating work for a lesbian audience. Lara thanked her boisterous cheering section, her partner Maryse, and the staff at Spinifex Press. Of twenty-four finalists, Spinifex was the only double nominated publisher.
Regrettably absent were the evening’s other four winners (below). Each had emailed remarks to be read by a colleague. All their comments played variations on the theme of gratitude, perhaps best conveyed by Jeanne Córdova who shared her feeling that the honor was, “Fucking Awesome!”
The same two words describe leadership and lifetime achievement winners Frances Goldin and Alison Bechdel. Frances is now over 80 and has marched in every single NYC pride parade carrying the sign above. She said she cries the whole way because spectators constantly run up to her asking if she will adopt them, which she doesn’t, or begging her to call their less supportive parents, which she does. She started her literary agency when she was 55 and their client list of 150 writers includes Dorothy Allison, Martin Duberman, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Staceyann Chin. In his introduction, Michael Denneny described her as a mix of “Auntie Mame and Rosa Luxembourg” and he pointed out that she quit the Communist Party because it wasn’t radical enough for her. She’s closing her office on May Day to take part in an illegal Occupy action downtown.
The amazing and incredible Alison Bechdel doesn't need stairs. She hopped on stage to make her brief thanks for the lifetime achievement award, adding, "although it may be a trifle premature." She also said,"I want to thank and acknowledge my past publishing ties and my present publishing ties. They provide a bridge, that without it, I would perhaps be floundering in a river, or maybe be a lawyer." Thank god. Her new graphic memoir Are You My Mother? comes out May 1.
Debut Fiction: Laura Fergus, My Sister Chaos
Gay Nonfiction: Mark D. Jordan, Recruiting Young Love: How Christians Talk about Homosexuality
Lesbian Poetry: Inside the Money Machine by Minnie Bruce Pratt
Gay Poetry: Touch by Henri Cole
Additional reporting by Logan Ragsdale.