Fiction Collection by James Morrison Nominated for Two Literary Awards

Professor of literature James Morrison has been nominated as a 2010 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award for his collection of fiction, Said and Done, published by Black Lawrence Press in 2009. (Black Lawrence Press is an imprint of Dzanc Books, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to preserving literary values over commercial ones.)

The “Lammy,” given annually by the Lambda Literary Foundation since 1988, nurtures, celebrates, and preserves lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility, and encourage development of both established and emerging writers.

It is considered to be the most prestigious, competitive and comprehensive literary award offered specifically to LGBT authors. Past winners in the fiction categories have included such luminaries as Dorothy Allison, Michael Cunningham, Allan Gurganus, Sarah Waters, and Edmund White.

Morrison’s Said and Done has been nominated in the category of Gay Fiction. The awards ceremony will be held May 27 at the School of Visual Arts Theater in New York City.

In Morrison’s collection, characters often gain perspective and insight via the connections they make with others. In one of the stories, a father must come to terms with his son’s ambiguous sexuality; in another, two lonely women comically turn the tables on someone who is stalking them.

“Over the past 10 years,” Morrison says, “I’ve published eight booksfive critical studies or scholarly monographs, and three works of creative writing; a memoir called Broken Fever, a novel called The Lost Girl, and this collection of short stories.” The stories, he says, were written over roughly this same decade (1995 to 2006) and most were published in literary magazines such as Ploughshares as they were completed. “They were written individually, one at a time, and only later did I start to think I might have enough good onesnine out of the 15 or 20 I wrote during that periodto make up a viable collection.”

Morrison says he wrote the stories because he loves the form and because they provided a break from longer projects.

“They’ve also allowed me to explore a range of styles and subjects in voices usually quite far removed from my own,” he says. “At the same time, I hope the book is unified by a common approach to the complexes of identity that I’m interested in writing about: the intricate interplays among selfhood and otherness that define so much of human experience.”

Morrison counts the Lambda nomination as a great honor. “Frankly, I was shocked to be nominated, since Said and Done had not managed to garner much attention before being named a finalist for this award,” he says.

“This awards season is significant because some of the biggest awards so far have gone to books from small independent presses, like Paul Harding’s Tinkers,” he adds, “which was published by a very small press, with only one employeethe editorand which just won the Pulitzer Prize. For years,” he says, “the commercial publishers in America have been shamefully neglecting literary fiction, but this abdication is only now being reflected in some of the remaining precincts of prestige, where those publishers will be forced to take notice.”

According to Morrison, one of two things will happen if the trend continues. “With any luck, either the two conglomerates that run almost all of American commercial publishing will lose their long-unearned cachet once and for all, or they will realize that their abandonment of literary fiction, far from bolstering their market power, is damaging them,” he says.

In the meantime, he hopes readers will begin to realize they can’t depend on these publishers to bring them the best work, and that, “in fact, they have to search for it, in an oversaturated market. And the awards have some value if they help the readers to find the books.”

Among the writers Morrison most admires is his friend and former teacher Charles Baxter.

“He has always been an inspiration to me in his calm, unflagging artistry, and Said and Done is dedicated to him for that reason,” Morrison says. “The American writers of the past 50 years that I’ve read with great admiration are John Cheever, Shirley Jackson, Grace Paley, Jane Bowles, Diane Johnson, James Purdy, Edmund White, and many others.”

In addition to the Lamdba Award, Morrison’s Said and Done is also a finalist this year for another honor: the ForeWord Book of the Year Award, in the category of Short Stories.

ForeWord’s Book of the Year Awards were established to bring increased attention to librarians and booksellers of the literary and graphic achievements of independent publishers and their authors. ForeWord is the only review trade journal devoted exclusively to books from independent houses.

The winner will be announced May 26 at Book Expo America in New York City, the day before the Lambda Literary Award ceremony.

Along with his other books, Morrison’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Raritan, and have been cited in both the Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays anthologies.