There was a time, in the early 2000s, when Southern Arizona was an unlikely hotbed of American literature.
Larry McMurtry, Andrew Greeley, Diana Ossana and Barbara Kingsolver all lived and wrote from their homes in Tucson. It turns out there was one more bestselling author than we knew.
Meet Lydia Millet, who last week was named a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award in Fiction.
Millet, who moved to Tucson in 1999 to work with the Center for Biological Diversity, is being honored for “A Children’s Bible.” The novel, described as a story of teenage alienation and adult complacency in an unraveling world, was published by W.W. Norton in May.
Presented by the National Book Foundation, the National Book Award is the most prestigious honor in American literature. Publishers this year nominated 388 newly published novels for top honors in fiction. Millet is one of five authors named as finalists. The winner will be announced Nov. 18 in New York City.
Millet is believed to be the first Tucsonan ever named a finalist for a National Book Award. She first heard the news last week from her publicist at Norton. The first person she told?
“I mentioned it to my chiropractor, and honestly it felt pretty pushy,” she said.
If you press her hard enough, Millet will admit she was happy to hear the news.
“Whether you’re a cynic about awards or a believer, hearing that someone likes your work is a moment of joy,” she confessed.
Still, she hopes her story receives more attention than its author. “It’s urgent that stories of climate and extinction be part of our conversation.”
Here are the finalists for the 2020 National Book Awards:
Fiction: “Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam; “A Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet; “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” by Deesha Philyaw; “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart; and “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu.
Nonfiction: “The Undocumented Americans” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio; “The Dead Are Arriving” by Les and Tamara Payne; “Unworthy Republic” by Claudio Saunt; “My Autobiography” by Carson McCullers; and “How to Make a Slave” by Jerald Walker.
Poetry: “A Treatise on Stars” by Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge; “Fantasia for the Man in Blue” by Tommye Blount; “DMZ Colony” by Don Mee Choi; “Borderland Apocrypha” by Anthony Cody; and “Postcolonial Love Poem” by Natalie Diaz.
Young People’s Literature: “King and the Dragonflies” by Karen Callender; “We Are Not Free” by Traci Chee; “Every Body Looking” by Candice Iloh; “When Stars Are Scattered” by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed; and “The Way Back” by Gavriel Savit.
One of the authors of “When Stars Are Scattered” also has a Tucson connection. The graphic novel is a memoir of Mohamed’s time growing up in a refugee camp for Somalians in Kenya who would go on to attend the University of Arizona.