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Lords of literature
Author Pat Conroy at the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, before his announcement of the National Book Awards finalists (photo Geoff L. Johnson)

I wrote a book at the age of ten called ‘My Relatives.' Seven copies were printed and distributed by me. It was in the naturalistic vein and it was not well received.

- Flannery O'Connor

In a coup for Savannah, legendary author Pat Conroy last week announced the finalists for the National Book Awards from the parlor of the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, a place he referred to as "sacred ground in one of the temples of world literature."

From a small lectern in front of the parlor window overlooking Lafayette Square, surrounded by antique photos and memorabilia from O'Connor's young life, Conroy humorously bid the audience of select media and local cultural leaders a "hearty welcome from the Irish Catholic Southern writers." He went on to explain the enormous impact of O'Connor's singular work on his life and writing:

"I consider her the greatest short story writer in the history of the republic," Conroy said. "And I think the day I read A Good Man Is Hard to Find on my porch in Beaufort, South Carolina, was the turning point in both my reading and my writing life. I was never the same after I began to read Flannery O'Connor. Great writing always changes people's lives, and changes them forever."

Before announcing the full list of finalists in the four categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature - the winners will be announced in New York in November - Conroy gave a tongue-in-cheek analysis of what was about to happen:

"Today I will change the lives of 25 American authors, who will find their fate as writers confirmed and their early passion for the written word honored by their names being listed all over the world for the achievement of being nominated for this extraordinary award," he said.

"Then their lovers will be ecstatic, their families over the top with pride - and their very best friends and fellow writers will be bitter and suicidal," Conroy said to huge laughs.

"It will be one of the finest days of their lives, and everything that happens after this will be a downhill slide."

And the finalists are:

Fiction: Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Alfred A. Knopf), Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co.), Nicole Krauss, Great House (W.W. Norton & Co.), Lionel Shriver, So Much for That (Harper), Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel (Coffee House Press)

Nonfiction: Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Spiegel & Grau), John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (W.W. Norton & Co/The New Press ), Patti Smith, Just Kids (Ecco), Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Megan K. Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War (Doubleday)

Poetry: Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City (Princeton University), Terrance Hayes, Lighthead (Viking Penguin), James Richardson, By the Numbers (Copper Canyon), C.D. Wright, One with Others (Copper Canyon), Monica Youn, Ignatz (Four Way)

Young People's Literature: Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker (Little, Brown & Co.), Kathryn Erskine, Mockingbird  (Philomel Books), Laura McNeal, Dark Water (Knopf), Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown  (Amistad), Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer (Amistad)


POLITICS: Because of the sheer volume of campaigns, we are not covering every single race this midterm election season. We will concentrate on the most hotly contested local races.

This issue Patrick Rodgers focuses on the competition between Michael Gaster and incumbent Lester Jackson for State Senate District 2, and the battle between incumbent John Barrow and Ray McKinney for the 12th Congressional District.