2 NU professors finalists for National Book Awards

Mike Elsen-Rooney

A writer obsessed with a deceased Jewish immigrant. Chance human encounters.

These are the subjects of works by Aleksandar Hemon and Reginald Gibbons, two Northwestern professors who are finalists for the 2008 National Book Awards. NU is the only university in the country with two current faculty members who are finalists.

“It isn’t common to have two finalists who teach at the same university at the same time,” said Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation.

Gibbons, a Weinberg professor who also co-directs the creative writing program in the School of Continuing Studies, said he got the news that he was a finalist while he was in London. He didn’t have access to his phone, so he found out on the New York Times Web site in the basement of a hotel.

“It was a pretty nice way to find out,” he said.

Back in Chicago, HeMonday, who works with Gibbons in the School of Continuing Studies as an adjunct lecturer, received an e-mail from the National Book Foundation. When he called to follow up, they told him he was one of five finalists for the National Book Award in fiction.

Gibbons was named for his poetry collection, “Creatures of a Day,” and Hemon for his novel, “The Lazarus Project.” There are four categories – non-fiction, fiction, poetry and children’s writing – each with five finalists. A total of 1,258 books were entered by publishers for consideration.

“Creatures of a Day” is about everyday human encounters, many of which take place in urban settings.

“The Lazarus Project” is about a Jewish immigrant in Chicago who was shot and killed by the chief of police, and a writer in current-day Chicago who follows the immigrant’s story.

Next for the two writers are ceremonies in New York City on Nov. 18 and 19. The finalists are awarded $1,000 and medals; the four winners, announced Nov. 19 at a black-tie dinner, receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture.

Past finalists include W.H. Auden, John Steinbeck and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Hemon said he has not looked at the names of any past winners.

“No serious writer depends on the prizes,” Hemon said. “I wake up in the morning and write because I want