Upcoming National Book Awards to be the last at Concordia

After 16 years of a successful partnership, the National Book Awards on Campus program will have its final reading at the spring 2022 ceremony. The President’s Office announced in an email sent to students on Oct. 21 that the current author residency program through the National Book Foundation will end after 2022. 

This program featured winners and finalists for two days of public events and masterclasses. The authors are involved in meet-and-greets, dinner with the Concordia’s president and a large group lecture, which typically has over 500 guests in attendance with a book signing afterward.

For the final ceremony in March 2022, Concordia will feature previous winners or finalists of the National Book Awards to celebrate their own works and the legacy of this program. Poet Nikky Finney and nonfiction author David Grann will come to campus this spring. 

Although Concordia is able to host authors this year, the closing of the program came suddenly. According to Probst, the foundation was unable to continue the program with Concordia but did not provide reasons for discontinuing the partnership. Probst said it is possible that internal changes in policy, COVID-19 and the hiring of a new executive director may all have factored into the closing of this program. 

Executive director Ruth Dickey said on the foundation’s behalf, “The National Book Foundation has been grateful to partner with Concordia College through our NBA on Campus program for many years. We admire the vibrant literary community the College has fostered, and look forward to hearing about future projects, and to our shared celebration of readers and reading.” 

Although this program is coming to an end, Concordia hopes to host another author residency program in the future, which Probst hopes will “improve upon what (Concordia) has done in the past.” The planning for the next program will occur during the spring semester. 

Concordia became the founding partner with the National Book Foundation to create the program in 2005. Professor of English W. Scott Olsen played a large role in establishing this opportunity. 

Olsen had the vision of creating a pocket of excellence by hosting “the nation’s biggest, bestest, boldest literary prize” at Concordia. With this idea in mind, Olsen contacted the National Book Foundation on the college’s behalf and the program was implemented a year later. 

“It was remarkably easy on our side. The director at the time was really our advocate and he wanted this to happen,” Olsen said. 

Beginning in 2005, Olsen, along with Tracey Moorhead, traveled to New York to attend the annual National Book Awards ceremony where they would hear readings of finalists, meet the authors and select the best two writers to bring back to campus. Since Moorhead’s retirement, Probst has gone along with Scott for the last two years. 

“We were really interested not as much in who won as much in who would be a dynamic presence on campus,” Olsen said. 

Whether a historical nonfiction book or a collection of poetry, Probst and Olsen picked authors who would be able to speak about topics interesting to Concordia students. 

In “Head Off & Split,” Nikky Finney explores the pain, humor and resistance in African American life by interacting with symbolic figures and major events in history. From Rosa Parks to a stranded woman in Hurricane Katrina, Finney illuminated the connection between the political and personal, the abstract and concrete while questioning the acts of separation, disowning and fragmentation within society and the self. Since 2013, Finney has worked at University of South Carolina as the John H. Bennet, Jr. Chair in Southern Letters and Literature. Finney is deeply involved in the Black Arts Movement, contributing both her poetry and photography to the mission. | Poetry Foundation
“In Killers of the Flower Moon,” David Grann documents a gruesome crime that is often an overlooked chapter in American history. With the help of new evidence and accounts from current Osage tribe members, Grann tells the story of murder, betrayal and heroism in a world struggling to adapt to modernity. Grann emphasizes the devaluation and destruction of American Indians and land in this narrative nonfiction masterpiece. This book has been picked up by Martin Scorsese for a film adaptation, which is currently in production. Grann currently works as a staff writer at The New Yorker. | Geffen Playhouse

Several classes read the works of the featured authors throughout the semester and students are able to ask more in-depth questions about the content or the craft during limited-occupancy masterclasses. 

“The conversations ranged wildly, but they were all sort of magical because here you had the nation’s best sitting down with 25 cobbers who read the book,” Olsen said. “Students gain access not only to the people, but also that level of insight, that level of research, that level of composition.” 

In addition to the vocational advice and composition lessons, students gain a better understanding of the world around them by reading contemporary literature. By reading these authors’ works, students are able to look at diversity and think about the world through an interdisciplinary lense, Probst said.

 

“It broadens us and helps us understand others and the experience of others. Engaging with any of the arts is engaging with the world. The arts are a lens into our world and help us explore it,” Probst said. 

Probst and Olsen agree that author residency programs are an essential activity to college and are deeply tied to Concrodia’s values. 

“We are an institution of higher learning. We believe in becoming responsibly engaged in the world. These people who have written these books are changing the world. These books are making a difference. What we want to do is put the students who are living under these mission statements in the presence of people who are accomplishing it.”

Although there are no official plans yet, Probst hopes the future author residency program at Concordia will continue to celebrate books and enrich student’s learning opportunities. Olsen is not involved in the planning process but looks forward to the coming program.

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