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Breaking news: David Small nominated for National Book Award

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David Small’s acclaimed graphic novel memoir, STITCHES, has been nominated for a National Book Award in the literature for young people category.

It’s the second nomination for a graphic novel in this category; Gene Yang’s AMERICAN BORN CHINESE got the nod in 2006.

The NBAs are considered one of the most prestigious literary awards in the US, and it’s a great recognition of both Small’s incredible story and the acceptance of books with pictures as possessing literary merit.

[Thanks to Torsten Adair for the alert.]

  1. Stitches is an amazing book. Too bad the judges are narrow minded, though–if I read it as a teen I’d have been scared to death by the reality Small depicts. Its an adult book.

  2. I agree. My first thought was that this is great. But then I noticed that it was nominated for a children s award which makes no sense. This could be partially because he is a children’s illustrator and author by trade, rather than simply because the judges saw it as a “book with pictures” and therefore suitable for a youth audience, but it is still a bit of a knock when a very adult memoir is in line to win a youth award.

    However, it is great that Graphic Novels are getting realized as real literature by mainstream sources, one way or another. It is a step in the right direction

  3. However adult the content of STITCHES might seem, it was apparently the book’s publisher which nominated it for an NBA in the Young People’s Literature category:

    Judges consider only books written by American citizens and published in the United States between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. Only publishers can nominate books for the National Book Award, although panel chairs can request books publishers have not nominated.

    Checking the cataloging of the book also indicated that the book has a couple of subject classifications related to children’s books:

    60010 |a Small, David, |d 1945- |v Comic books, strips, etc.
    650 0 |a Authors, American |y 20th century |v Biography |v Comic books, strips, etc.
    650 0 |a Artists |z United States |v Biography |v Comic books, strips, etc.
    650 0 |a Children’s stories |x Illustrations |v Comic books, strips, etc.
    650 0 |a Children’s stories |x Authorship |v Comic books, strips, etc.
    650 0 |a Cancer |x Patients |v Biography.

    Given the NBA’s categories of books, Young People’s Literature was probably the only category that fit.

    SRS

  4. “However, it is great that Graphic Novels are getting realized as real literature by mainstream sources,”

    While it’s nice to see a GN lauded by a mainstream source, if GNs were truly being treated as “real literature” we’d be seeing a hell of a lot more (or any?) attention to–and an actual readership for–books that were neither all-ages/YA nor adult memoir. As much as I’d like to believe otherwise as a cartoonist myself, outside the world of comics folk, the only GNs for adults that are really on the radar are comics memoirs, a publishing novelty which may or may not continue to be popular in the future.

    I wish STITCHES the best of luck for the award, but as far as the broader picture goes, I’m still remaining agnostic about comics having “arrived” as an art form until there’s a real audience for general fiction GNs for adults.

  5. Well, I agree this isn’t a kids book, its great to see a GN getting this kind of recognition. I just wish more comics reader would appreciate the prestige of this nomination. I can’t remember how many times I tried to explain the importance of Yang’s nomination to people! Sometimes its two hermetically sealed worlds.

  6. The book starts with David Small’s operation at age 14, and how that operation affected him, and his relationships with his dysfunctional family.

    As for graphic novels outside the YA/memoir categories which garner adult attention, “Incognegro” received a daily review in the New York Times when it was published, and on the 25th of September, Logicomix, a GN about Bertrand Russell was featured as well! (Currently #1 on the softcover NYT Graphic Books list.)

    There are also the movie adaptations… Watchmen, History of Violence, Road to Perdition, 300, Wanted, V for Vendetta, From Hell… Larry Gonick’s “Cartoon Guide” books have remained in print for decades.

  7. OK – I promise this will be my last potentially thread-derailing, non-STITCHES related post, but to address the comments from Torsten above:

    First off, reviews ain’t the same thing as readership. (Trust me, I know.)

    Second, while not memoir, neither of the books you mention there are general fiction. INCOGNEGRO is based on the life of Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP. LOGICOMIX, obviously, is based on the life of philosopher Bertrand Russell.

    The fact that the the other things you mention are GNs that move copies outside comics shops because they’re movie tie-ins merely furthers my general evaluation that comics has a long way to go before it has truly “arrived” as an art form by any measure of general readership.

  8. Yes, people have always known about comics, and they know many of the major characters. What this nomination is about is a degree of serious critical recognition that many comic readers don’t seem to even be aware of. The Pulitzer and the National Book Award are America’s primary literary awards, akin to Britain’s Man-Booker or the Governor-General and Giller prizes in Canada. This is recognition of the medium as a serious art form, not just as a source of bestsellers and movie adaptations.

    When I try to explain this to people, a lot of them point out that Maus won a Pulitzer. That’s not actually the case. It was awarded a special Pulitzer. It wasn’t nominated. It wasn’t chosen over other nominees.

    Of course, an alternative argument could be made given the category it was nominated in. By relegating it to the Lit for young people category, one could argue that the National Book Award was relegating the medium to children and immature readers. But for the time being, I am happy to see the glass as half full.

  9. I do understand Ben’s perspective but the point Mr. Bird makes is key. The fact that Small’s book has gained this much attention is important to the rest of the comics industry. We now have two authors who have reached this plateau and if you count Hugo Cabret as a combo-prose/gn then you have three.
    What was missing after Maus was awarded the special Pulitzer is a simple answer: more graphic novels. There werent many books on the shelves to take advantage of the momentum. With the success of Stitches, American Born Chinese, Fun Home, and Blankets before them we will see doors open wider for more memoirs and we will see more non-fiction titles that are really well done.
    Memoirs have made it ‘ok’ for the literati to look at comics. As for that word ‘comics’ it’s not translating yet to the book trade. The new audience of teachers, librarians and indie retailers are looking for graphic novels. Comics are those floppy super hero things…It may suck to hear that but it’s true.

    This makes me think of a comment one publisher recently made about the growing success of Stitches. He said “Yeah, well we all know a rising tide doesnt float all boats”. It will if you know it’s rising, you’ve pulled up anchor and set the sails..or put gas in the tank.

    If I ran a comics house, I’d steal every idea from the traditional publishing houses and show them what graphic novels can really be. It’s really not that difficult. Now that the doors are opening up, it’s an awesome time to publish great graphic novels.

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