NYPL lion from ForgottonDelights.com - thanks! Event photos to come...Photo of Barbara Currie by David Gerard Fromm.
On the steps of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street sit two massive marble lions. My mother loved her joke about them, told it frequently: They roar whenever a virgin walks by. Last night they did roar when Ron Currie won the NYPL’s Young Lions Fiction Award for God is Dead.
Actor Ethan Hawke and a group of his friends (Rick Moody, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and Hannah McFarland) started the award in 2001 for writers under 35, making Ron the eighth winner. Hawke was MC in the Bartos Forum of “this wonderful building,” a banquet hall with a glass "saucer dome" ceiling and marble walls. We sat at round tables, ours all the way to the left in front of the stage, the one with the Ron Currie tent card. At tables next to ours, the other nominees: Ellen Litman (The Last Chicken in America); Peter Nathaniel Malae (Teach the Free Man); Dinah Mengetsu (The Beautiful Thing that Heaven Bears); and Emily Mitchell (The Last Summer of the World).
Hawke was exuberant, congratulating the nominees regardless of the outcome. Ron's mother, Barbara, had brought along a stunning picture of her husband , Ron Currie Sr., who passed away last December.
Four actors read excerpts from the works of each nominee, Ron’s “Indian Summer” was first, read by Brian O’Byrne, star of “Coast of Utopia.” Brian took a wide stance, right hand in his pocket, sometimes carving the air, weight shifting, knee bending, leaning into the tough parts of the story adding more punch to the raw prose, his mouth just an inch or two from the mic, dressed in black jeans and a charcoal sweater much as the characters in the story might have worn, he not that different in age from them. The story is awful and riveting, the same excerpt Ron read at the book party last summer (well, apparently, I never revealed in these pages that we hosted a book party for him here last July when the book came out so this link will have to do). "Indian Summer" will stand as the emblem of hopelessness, hilarious yet so raw that each time I hear it, I wish Ron had never written it because of what it must have taken out of him to do so. But, horrible as it is, it fits the book as a whole - and everyone lunges for it, readers and reviewers alike.
The other excerpts were wonderful - two emigré stories, one Russian, one Ethiopian, a jail story that had Ron’s not preceded it would have been even more powerful, and a portrait of Edward Steichen - all beautifully written, as one would expect from nominees for this award, humorous, and all well read by Hawke, Amanda Peet, and Michael Shannon - but when Brian finished, I felt sorry for the other nominees. Ron’s work is a different kind of original and that, I’m certain, is why he won.
The judges considered 142 books, chose five as finalists, said Paul LeClerc, NYPL president, before receiving “the envelope, please.” Not a second between his opening it and his “Ron Currie.” We erupted, we being his mom, Barbara, his niece Sierra (who got to have her picture taken with actor Aaron Eckhart), and three of my Zoetrope friends - Anne Elliott, Don Capone, and David Fromm. Congratulations is a small word for what this means to Ron and for his career. And lest I overlook one detail: Prize = $10,000 for Ron; $1000 for each of the other finalists.