If you haven’t seen it yet, the finalists for the 2008 Whitney Awards have been posted. As expected, Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom is nominated in all three categories it was eligible for (novel of the year, new author, general fiction). And as expected, Angel Falling Softly was not a finalist in any category. And as expected, the presence of some national titles (in particular Stephenie Meyer’s The Host, Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile, and the final volume of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series) on the list seems a bit unfair even though such titles are sold in LDS bookstores and consumed by LDS readers and written by Mormon authors and so fit the basic parameters of what makes a work a piece of LDS/Mormon fiction.
And yet all of the above (as well as the characteristics of the other titles that made the cut) are in keeping with the audience for the Whitney’s and are about as good a portrait of what the field looks like in terms of reader popularity and sales as you are going to get.
Should Bound on Earth win Best Novel of the Year (and should it also win an AML award — which seems likely) it will join last year’s winner On the Road to Heaven as a) a strong indication of the type of domestic, plain-style Mormon literary realism that does well with middlebrow LDS readers and b) establish Parables and Zarahemla as the best bets for writers and readers interested in Mormon literary fiction.
For the record, I’m not interested in comments bemoaning or defending the finalists. The Whitney Awards is a positive development in the field and a class act (at least in terms of their marketing/pr efforts and products — I can’t speak to how it is run in other areas). But it’s one only one aspect of the past year in Mormon literature and as lovely as awards are, they are at best a reductive form of validation and criticism. Although let’s be honest: The Whitneys have way more credibility than the Grammys.
The Whitney Awards take place April 25 in Provo. Tickets (which are $35) are available here. Hopefully the awards committee arranges to liveblog the event again. The liveblogging was quite entertaining last year.