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Professor of Literary Arts Keith Waldrop and Deborah Heiligman '80 are among the finalists for the National Book Award, the National Book Foundation announced last Friday.

Waldrop's "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy" was nominated in the poetry category, and Heiligman's "Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith" was nominated in the young people's literature category.

The National Book Award is one of the most prestigious nationwide prizes for literature. The foundation judges books nominated in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature.

Waldrop has been teaching at Brown since 1968. He was a 1969 National Book Award finalist for the poetry category for his "A Windmill Near Calvary."

Waldrop's nominated collection includes three poem sequences: "Shipwreck in Haven," "Falling in Love through Description" and "The Plummet of Vitruvius." The sequences are experimental collages that he created by pulling language from outside texts, he said.

In composing his collages, Waldrop said he used phrases from three books from different genres to make stanzas. He wrote the phrases and stanzas by hand and then typed them up and arranged them alphabetically.

"Transcendental Studies" is "the only thoroughly collage-permeated book" among Waldrop's works, he said. 

The book "is rigorously experimental and yet at the same time highly readable and meticulously constructed," wrote Professor of Literary Arts Brian Evenson, who chairs the department, in an e-mail to The Herald. "It's a wonderful and surprising book, and highly original."

Like Waldrop, Heiligman is a prolific writer: She has published 25 books in the young people's genre. Heiligman's "Charles and Emma" is a biography of Charles Darwin that focuses on his relationship with his wife that focuses on the effect of her religious beliefs on his work and ideas.

"I really wanted it to be essentially a biography of Darwin seen in the lens of his marriage. We tend to think of Darwin as just being a scientist and not a real person," Heiligman said. "He was an involved father and husband. His children ran in and out of his study."

Heiligman explained that the most interesting aspect of Charles and Emma's relationship was their ability to see each other's points of view, disagree and forge a successful and close marriage. The two were "sources of inspiration for each other," despite their conflicting ideas of science and religion, Heiligman said.

The winners of the 60th National Book Awards will be announced Nov. 18 at a ceremony in New York City. 


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