‘Maus’ Author Art Spiegelman Honored by US National Book Foundation

In News by Porter Anderson

Art Spiegelman, whose ‘Maus’ has been the target of censorship efforts, is to be introduced at the National Book Awards by Neil Gaiman.

Art Spiegelman. Image: Nadja Spiegelman

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

See also:
ALA’s Tracie Hall Receives the National Book Award’s Literarian Award

‘The Graphic Novel is a Frequent Target of Censorship’
In its selection of Art Spiegelman to be the recipient on November 16 of its 2022 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the United States’ National Book Foundation takes an interesting step into the controversial waves of book bannings and right-wing educational challenges roiling the political landscape this year.

Spiegelman won a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize board in 1992 for his graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (Penguin Random House/Pantheon Graphic Library, 1986), a two-part account of his father’s harrowing experiences during the Holocaust, with Jews depicted as mice and Nazis as cats.

Earlier this year, the work was in the news when, as The New York Times‘ Jenny Gross reported, a school board in Tennessee voted to ban the work from its classroom curricula “because the book contains material that board members said was inappropriate for students.”

The Distinguished Contribution to American Letters is one of two lifetime achievement awards the National Book Foundation produces each year. As you’ll recall, American Library Association executive director Tracie D. Hall was named on Wednesday (September 7) to receive the other, the Literarian Award.

Spiegelman becomes the first comics artist to receive the Distinguished Contribution medal, and it’s to be presented to him by Neil Gaiman at November’s National Book Awards program in new York City.

Neil Gaiman. Image: Kyle Cassidy, CC BY-SA 3.0

Gaiman himself is in a bit of a cliffhanger at the moment, fans of Netflix’s adaptation of his The Sandman clamoring for news of a second season being greenlighted, even as Variety‘s BreAnna Bell has reported that the show’s first season “was the show to finally overthrow Stranger Things, racking up 1.4 billion minutes watched” in the week of August 8 to 13.

In Hillel Italie’s Associated Press write-up on the National Book Foundation’s selection of Spiegelman, Italie explained the Spiegelman-Gaiman connection: “In a recent telephone interview, Gaiman said Spiegelman had made an enduring impact on him. He remembered seeing some of Spiegelman’s Maus images some 40 years ago and relating them to his own experiences as a relative of Jewish Holocaust survivors. ‘It left prints on my soul,’ he says of Spiegelman’s work.”

Gaiman and Spiegelman, Italie writes, have since become friends.

In addition to the Pulitzer and the coming Distinguished Contribution medal, Spiegelman is a recipient of the Grand Prix at the Angoulême International Comics Festival, and was the first comic artist to receive the Edward MacDowell Medal. He has been inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Industry Hall of Fame and the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and was named one of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2005. He has been elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. 

Among his work are Breakdowns; The Wild Party; In the Shadow of No Towers; a collection of three of his sketchbooks entitled Be a Nose!; and MetaMaus, a companion to The Complete Maus.

‘Masterful Graphic Novels’

The Swedish-born Spiegelman’s comic art has been exhibited at museums including the Centre Pompidou in Paris; Museum Ludwig in Cologne; the Vancouver Art Gallery; the Jewish Museum in New York City; and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

David Steinberger

In a prepared statement for the announcement of Spiegelman’s selection for the honor, National Book Foundation chair David Steinberger is quoted, saying, “Art Spiegelman has captured the world’s imagination through the comics medium.

“His masterful graphic novels tackle and illuminate topics from the Holocaust to the aftermath of 9/11, alongside the personal intimacy of the people, events, and comics that shaped him as an artist.

“Spiegelman’s groundbreaking work has shown us the limitless possibilities for comics as a literary arts form, and the Foundation is proud to honor his legacy.”

Ruth Dickey

And Ruth Dickey, the foundation’s executive director, says, “Art Spiegelman’s tremendous body of work, as well as his anthologizing, community building, and advocacy for comics literacy for readers of all ages have secured comics as an irreplaceable literary form.

“His carefully researched Maus blends family memoir with world history and political commentary, and shines a light on the complexity of intergenerational trauma.

“The graphic novel is a frequent target of censorship, and remains essential reading not just to understand our history but our present as well. We are honored to celebrate Spiegelman’s work as an artist and an advocate.”

Spiegelman and his parents moved to the States in 1951, and he becomes the 35th recipient of the foundation’s Distinguished Contribution medal.

And the announcements of his and Hall’s honors are the first two of a series of such announcements this month from organizers of the National Book Awards. In coming days, expect to see longlist announcements for:

  • The National Book Award longlist in young people’s literature
  • The National Book Award longlist in translated literature
  • The National Book Award longlist in poetry
  • The National Book Award longlist in in nonfiction
  • The National Book Award longlist in fiction

The year’s finalists, as this program calls its shortlisted works and writers, are to be named on October 4.

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 159th report with awards-related news published in the 168 days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the National Book Awards in the United States is here and more on the huge field of international book awards and prizes is here. More from us on the United States’ market is here

More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.