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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Offers Up her Fifth Annual “Noble” Prize For Literature

A lot can happen in five years. And a lot can not happen in five years.

I've given out more Noble (Not Nobel!) Prizes some years than others. I've had authors who have utilized the honor (and yes, even small awards are honors, just like small hugs!). And I've had some who haven't noticed.

The Noble hasn't grown as much as I once thought it would. Maybe that's because some authors are frightened by the guidelines. Though short, they can be off-putting. I look for books that show excellence in use of the English language, present themes or premises that might help even one reader recognize and curtail bigotry, or explore the human condition in other important ways.

So, some authors seem to hesitate. Yes, most winners are books of poetry or fiction. But, gosh, it doesn't cost anything to enter. Well, okay. The cost of a book and the postage and the effort to write a little note with a blurb telling me why it should be considered. It's not a bribe, of course, but I also do a Ten Best List for MyShelf and sometimes books that don't make the Noble award are on that list because I don't duplicate. Go back to the home page of this month and click on the Ten Best. Each of the MyShelf reviewers contributes a list. It's a great way to find more good reading and you'll also be able to tell what kinds of books reviewers like; that's valuable information if you're looking to get reviews for your book.

But I digress. I have big plans for the Noble but can't follow through with them for free. Thus, I am looking for a grant. Now, here's the rub. Most of the grants I find are for dance or graphic art or . . . well, let's just say most are not for writing. The ones I find for writing seem to be oriented toward local needs rather than national. So, if anyone out there knows of a foundation that is looking to encourage writers of hard-to-publish genres like poetry and literary fiction, won't you let me know?

Those of you who follow this award know that I asked my daughter-in-law to help me. Leigh Johnson is a good judge of literary work, has a law degree from Stamford, and her input adds an extra dimension to my picks for she tells me she chooses books not from the bestseller lists but from reviews--even reviews in obscure journals. This year my son, Trent Johnson, suggested one of his own, The Zookeeper's Wife. I, of course, also glean winners from the books you nominate, the books written by my UCLA students and fellow instructors, books my editors assign me to review, and even a few that I pick up in second-hand book stores. I try to avoid books that have been hanging around bestseller lists (you can access those without me) and those that have already won awards.

So now you know what to look for, let's enjoy the 2007 winners of Carolyn’s Noble Prize for Literature. That’s “Noble,” not “Nobel.” Here they are.

Carolyn’s 2007
Noble List for Reading in 2008

Magdalena Ball for her Sleep Before Evening. Published by Be Write Books. This book is about how addiction can strike anyone, even families that love one another. The ISBN is 978-1904492962
Christine Alexanians is the author of It's Spring. It Snows. It is a book of poetry that touches on war, peace and how they are affected by tolerance or its lack. Self-published in the time-honored tradition of publishing chapbooks (even producing them by hand). Click on the cover to purchase.
Alison Bechdel for Fun Home: A Tragicomedy published by Mariner Books. Leigh says, "It's a graphic novel as poignant as any novel I've ever read." ISBN: 978-0618871711
Diane Ackerman for The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story is nonfiction about a family who hid Jews during the German occupation. It explores genetics and biology of animals and humans and the way these affect our thinking. Published by Thorndike Press. ISBN: 978-1410403490
Joshua Ferris for Then We Came to the End, adds a little fun about petty office politics to this list of well-written books. Published by Little, Brown and Co. ISBN: 978-0316016384
Sona Ovasapyan, also the publisher of her own chapbook, ForGone. It is a book about love, both dreamy and lyrical. Click on the cover to purchase.
Rolf Gompertz, author of To Life, To Love, a creative assortment of poetry, prose and memoir published by iUniverse. ISBN 059-53555595. Gompertz is a former publicist for NBC and taught for UCLA for many years. He is the author of another Noble award winner, The Messiah of Midtown Park.

Lionel Shriver for The Post Birthday World. It is an experimental novel about both fidelity or infidelity, depending on the story line you prefer. Published by HarperCollins. ISBN:

Ken Kreckel, for his The Rommel Mission, published by Red Engine Press. This book makes clear the human side of WWII, told clearly and straightforwardly. ISBN 978-0978515898.
Joyce Faulkner and Pat McGrath Avery for The Sunchon Tunnel Massacre. This book gives voice to those who survived this Korean War atrocity, and those who didn't. Published by Red Engine Press.
Yvonne Perry for Right to Recover: Winning the Political and Religious Wars Over Stem Cell Research in America published by Nightengale Press is a rare nonfiction selection because it addresses a subject that can--if implemented--alleviate human suffering. ISBN: 978-1933449418
Karla Brundage for Swallowing Watermelons, a small book of poetry about being young, single, a mother and biracial. Published by Ishmael Reed. ISBN; 142-5714633
John F. Nienstedt for Evil Business. This book reads like a paranormal book but explores philosophies that make it work at a deeper level. Published by iUniverse. ISBN: 978-0595420568.

Christopher Meeks for Who Lives, a play that explores ethics, kidney disease and life. Published by White Whisker Books. ISBN: 978-1847283757. Christopher teaches writing at UCLA Extension Writers' Program. Christopher is a two-time Noble award-winner. His first was for The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.


Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Carolyn's blog,, includes everything writer-related from rants on Oprah to the quirky things some libraries are doing these days. You can sighn up to receive each blog entry directly into your e-mail box. Scroll down. Find it in the left column.

Readers' Tip: Carolyn has a new blog for readers to find books they may not find in their newspaper's book sections or the nation's review journals. Visit it at You might even look for some of Carolyn's old reviews there—with permission from MyShelf editor and guru Brenda Weeaks, of course.

2008 Past Columns

Carolyn Offers Up her Fifth Annual “Noble” Prize For Literature

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