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Oregon Book Awards celebrate writers in seven categories

On Monday, March 17, the Oregon Book Awards will crown champions.

Now in its 27th year, the event will take place at the Gerding Theater, and awards will honor the best books by Oregon authors in seven categories: fiction, poetry, general nonfiction, creative nonfiction, children’s literature, young adult literature and graphic literature.

“The purpose is to promote Oregon’s writers and make people aware of all the great writing being done in this state,” says Susan Denning, director of programs and events for Literary Arts, which puts on the event. “I don’t think (Oregon authors) get lost. But, sometimes people aren’t aware of all the great work that’s being published each year.”

Past winners include “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk, “How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater” by Marc Acito and “Under the Blood-Red Sun” by Graham Salisbury.

The books are judged by an out-of-state panel, whose members decide on the nominees and the winners.

“We don’t pre-screen the books,” Denning says. “We send them all to the judges. The judges are authors themselves and have a national reputation.”

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Gerding, 128 N.W. 11th Ave. Tickets for the ceremony start at $10. Members of the Oregon literary community will present the awards for each category.

The winners will receive a $500 prize. Even more importantly, the winners, as well as the nominees, will travel around the state on the Oregon Book Awards Author Tour, attending eight to 10 readings and workshops. The exposure can help jump-start sales for an

author’s work.

“It’s really important, especially if you’re an emerging author, to have that kind of help for marketing the book,” Denning says.

The biggest name nominee is Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin, who is nominated for the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction for her book, “The Unreal and The Real: Collected Stories, Volume 1 and 2.” Le Guin, who won the fiction award in 1992 for “Searoad,” is a bit like the Meryl Streep of the Oregon Book Awards.

“She’s had a prolific career,” Denning says. “She has an amazing body of work. She’s one of our bright stars here in Oregon.”

Another nationally acclaimed writer is Mary Szybist of Portland, a Stafford/Hall Award For Poetry nominee for her book of poetry “Incarnadine,” which won the National Book Award.

The Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction figures to be a tight race between Portland author Paul Collins, who wrote “Duel with the Devil,” and R. Gregory Nokes of West Linn, who wrote “Breaking Chains.”

While the Oregon Book Awards are about the authors and their work, Denning says that the awards allow Oregon residents to feel a sense of pride in the state’s literary community.

“It’s important for the community to take pride in its authors and know there are creative people who are producing great work,” Denning says. “It elevates the entire community. It gives you a great sense of pride to know these people are coming out of your state.”

For more information and a complete list of nominees, go to www.literary-arts.org.

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