Surprises, controversy surround book award nominations

Business Wire

Bouillon? Wyler is swimming in it. The employees’ idea of celebrating the Ohio-based soup company’s 70th anniversary is mixing up the world’s largest bowl of soup: 662 gallons of beef vegetable.

The National Book Awards’ nominee list announced Wednesday looks like a Who’s Who of Writers. It includes names like Susan Sontag, Joyce Carol Oates and 92-year-old Jacques Barzun. While only two of last year’s finalists had even been nominated for an NBA, this year’s list includes nine past nominees and two former winners, Oates and Galway Kinnell.

Barzun, who spent more than half a century at Columbia University, is the oldest nominee in the NBA’s 51-year history. His “From Dawn to Decadence,” a finalist in the nonfiction category, is an 800-page survey of Western civilization that spent months on best-seller lists.

Controversy surrounded Patrick Tierney’s nomination for “Darkness in El Dorado.” Some anthropologists have disputed his allegations that U.S. scientists may have started a deadly measles epidemic among South America’s Yanomami Indians in 1968. And the selection committee, chaired by biographer Patricia O’Toole, read a galley that will differ from the final version. O’Toole declined to comment.

In a year that featured acclaimed novels from Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and John Updike, the nominations for Sontag and Oates were surprising. Sontag’s “In America” and Oates’ “Blonde,” each based on real-life actresses, received mixed reviews. Sontag also was criticized for the uncredited borrowing of passages from other sources.

Other fiction nominees include Francine Prose for her campus satire “Blue Angel,” Charles Baxter for “The Feast of Love” and Alan Lightman for “The Diagnosis.”

Science-fiction author Ray Bradbury, never nominated in a competitive category, will receive a lifetime achievement medal. Winners, who will be announced at the Nov. 15 ceremony hosted by Steve Martin, receive $10,000, while finalists receive $1,000.


No matter what you might have heard through the grapevine, jam-rock band Phish is not breaking up just taking an extended breather.

After a pair of weekend gigs at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, the band has begun a vacation from touring and recording to catch up on rest and ponder its future.

Band members won’t comment, but manager John Paluska says that “everybody just hit an undefinable point of exhaustion at the same time” and wanted to be with their families. Paluska added, “They (band members) realized that not only do they want to take this break but to re-envision their careers in a way that’s consistent with being family men.”

ANNUAL APOLOGY: In observance of Yom Kippur, Dr. Laura Schlessinger ran a letter on the back cover of Wednesday’s Variety apologizing to the gay and lesbian community. “In talking about gays and lesbians, some of my words were poorly chosen,” the letter reads. “I deeply regret the hurt this situation has caused the gay and lesbian community.”

Schlessinger, an Orthodox Jew, said in the letter that she was seeking forgiveness in keeping with the tradition of the Jewish day of atonement, observed this past Monday. The statement, which coincidentally ran in the Hollywood trade paper’s special “Gay Hollywood” issue, acknowledged her “poorly chosen” words about gays and continued “many people perceive them as hate speech This fact has been personally and professionally devastating to me as well as to many others.” Nearly 25 percent of her radio program’s advertisers have at least temporarily suspended their support, her television program hasn’t drawn significant numbers, and four Canadian TV stations have dropped it from their schedules.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and said they did not foresee relenting in their pressure on her advertisers. For us, it has been about stopping her defamation, and there is nothing in her statement that says she intends to do that,” said Joan M. Garry, executive director of the alliance.


Married: Oscar-winning actor Rod Steiger, to actress Joan Benedict. The ceremony was held Tuesday at Steiger’s Malibu home. It’s his fifth marriage; Benedict was a widow.

Birthdays: Actress Antonia Rey (73), blues singer Nappy Brown (71), comedian-activist Dick Gregory (68), former Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, (68), opera singer Luciano Pavarotti (65), singer Sam Moore formerly of Sam and Dave (65), sportscaster Tony Kubek (65), TV reporter Chris Wallace (53), Michigan Gov. John Engler (52), actress-singer Susan Anton (50), R&B singer Claude McKnight of Take 6 (38), actor Adam Rich (32), R&B singer Garfield Bright of Shai (31), country musician Martie Seidel of Dixie Chicks (31), actor Kirk Cameron (30).

Today’s People Column was compiled by Vera H-C Chan from staff and wire reports. Comments? Write to us c/o the Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099. Or call 925-943-8262, fax 925-943-8362, or e-mail