Anthony Cody finds out tonight if he’s a National Book Award winner. (But he’ll always be a finalist!)

Anthony Cody is bringing it all to Wednesday night’s National Book Awards ceremony: a burgundy tux; a pair of Pumas; and a relaxed attitude.

The honor: Cody, a recent Fresno State MFA graduate, is one of five finalists in the poetry category at the prestigious national awards. He’s nominated for his “Borderland Apocrypha.”


Why it matters, Part 1: These awards are the real deal. In the first decade after it was founded in 1950, the National Book Awards honored such such writers as Hannah Arendt, W.H. Auden, Saul Bellow, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Marianne Moore, Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, J. D. Salinger, Eudora Welty, and William Carlos Williams. There are 25 finalists in five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature.

Why it matters, Part 2: It’s the marketing, baby. “Winner of the National Book Award” would make a mighty fine tagline at the top of the paperback edition.

The pandemic version: Usually the awards are given at a big ceremony in New York City with all the trimmings: dressing up, fancy dinner, lots of photos, you know the drill. In Zoom Land, however, it’s all online this year. (The nice thing is that you can pop in as an audience member and you don’t have to get dressed up. Here’s the link. The ceremony starts at 4 p.m. PST. Cody estimates that the poetry category, which is up third, will clock in at about 5 p.m.)

The perks: As a finalist, Cody already received a $1,000 award and medal. (On Facebook, he posted a photo himself holding the medal. It was taken by Mai Der Vang, the other half of this local poetry power couple.) At a ceremony Tuesday night, all 25 of the finalists read from their works. If he wins his category, Cody will receive $10,000 and a bronze statue.


The formal wear: He isn’t the kind to spill all the Red Carpet details before the big unveil, but let’s just call his outfit his “pandemic tux” — which Cody actually procured remotely. Plus those favorite Pumas, of course.

As for that fancy dinner: “I have some steaks that I will marinate tomorrow morning and grill in the dark after the event,” he told me Tuesday night. “During the pandemic, when the air has not been horrific from the fires, I’ve been grilling as a way to kind of meditate and relax.”

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Any stage fright? If he wins, he has to give a two-minute speech: “I am not really nervous. The last thing I was thinking about was prizes when I wrote the book, so I am kind of thinking that same way right now. Ultimately, all of this attention feels like it honors the work that I put into making the book, less about me. Ultimately, I am excited to be meeting the other writers who are amazing people, talking with readers and students, and honored that the work and histories that are within my book are being honored, recognized, and read more widely.”

UPDATE 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18:

The 2020 National Book Awards poetry winner is Don Mee Choi.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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