It’s been a while since we’ve posted our bloomers round-up, so we have some catching up to do. This month we want to make sure to extend our heartfelt congratulations to those among our rolls here at Bloom who’ve been recognized and/or have recently bloomed in new and exciting ways.
Though we resist hierarchy here at Bloom, we’d be hard pressed to delay mentioning Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for even a paragraph. In addition to having written a complex, artfully crafted, best-selling novel, Nguyen is a model for all scholars and academics who know they have creative work in them. According to The Guardian, Nguyen struggled for years to fully engage his dual vocations—“Seen by both sides as an interloper or a dilettante, he spent 20 years trying to bring together his academic scholarship and literary ambitions.” Nguyen also demonstrates that while celebrity and success might muzzle some in the face of such attention and scrutiny, for him it’s merely provided a larger megaphone to speak the truths he cares about:
The literary industry and the entire social and cultural system of the United States work to tempt writers of color into writing for white people,” says Nguyen. “If I had written the book for a white audience, I would have sold it for a lot more money and many more publishers would have been bidding for it.
Read our Q&A with Nguyen here.
The Sympathizer was also a finalist for this year’s PEN/Faulkner. Rising to the top of that auspicious list was yet another bloomer, James Hannaham, for Delicious Foods. You can read our meaty, two-part conversation with Hannaham here—and even listen to a bit of Hannaham’s terrific audio reading of Delicious Foods. In his interview, Hannaham too pulls no punches about his truths, his activism, and his willingness to model an “entitled black gay freakiness.” On the horizon for Hannaham, in the wake of awards and accolades: co-moderating a book club at Gracie Mansion with NYC’s first lady Chirlane McCray.
Shawn Vestal was one of our very first audio interviewees here at Bloom; you can listen to the conversation with Sonya Chung here, in which he specifically credits later-life integration of life experiences, as well as the ability to work harder and in a more focused way in an MFA program, for “making real” his writing life and his work. Vestal’s Godforsaken Idaho won the 2014 Pen/Robert W. Bingham Award—one of the most prestigious awards for a fiction debut. In April we saw the release of Vestal’s debut novel Daredevils. Kirkus writes of Daredevils (in Vestal’s second starred Kirkus review, not an easy get):
This debut novel captures the flailings and flights of hapless dreamers with prose that throbs like the strings of an electric bass playing its sad heart out in a near-desolate landscape.
If Nguyen models the long, eventually rewarding, road for the academic-novelist, Vestal—a longtime reporter, now columnist, for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, WA—provides inspiration for the professional journalist who is also brimming with creative work.
Wrapping up: Congrats to Marian Palaia, whose The Given World was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award, longlisted for the PEN/Bingham, named a Kirkus Best Novels, Best Debut, and Best Historical Novels of 2015, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers pick. Check out our Q&A with Palaia here. And congrats to Mason Stokes, whose personal essay “Namesake,” first published in the Colorado Review, was selected for Best American Essays 2016 by Jonathan Franzen. “Namesake” was Stokes’s first personal essay published in print, at age 47. You can read the essay he wrote for Bloom—about moving from academic writing to writing his first novel, Saving Julian—here.
Congrats finally to bloomers we’ve featured who have new books out this year: Ronna Wineberg’s Nine Facts That Can Change Your Life, Robin Black’s Crash Course, Natalie Serber’s Community Chest, and Mary Roach’s Grunt.
And on a last note, veering sharply from the world of literature to that of popular entertainment, let us take a moment to acknowledge the accomplishment of one Alisan Porter—diva extraordinaire, who, at age 35, a mom with two children—won this season’s The Voice. If literature is a challenging artistic medium for later-life bloomers, entertainment is an arguably even harder industry, at times seeming to reward everything but talent. And for women over 30? “I tried and gave up so many times… This was a last ditch effort,” Porter said in an interview. From all of us at Bloom, You go girl.