Paul VanDevelder, who Monday won a 2011 Oregon Book Award for his book “Savages and Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America’s Road to Empire Through Indian Territory,” says the award is “a powerful affirmation of the work we do in isolation.”
And there’s another reason why the 59-year-old VanDevelder, who lives in Corvallis with his wife Brenda and youngest child Ellie, was thrilled to win the Frances Fuller Victor Award For General Nonfiction:
As the emcee of Monday’s awards ceremony, New York City novelist Kurt Anderson, said at the event: “The Oregon Book Awards are unique, and they are watched far and wide because the winners here tonight step into an illustrious tradition with Ken Kesey, Ursula LeGuin, Craig Leslie, John Daniels, and so many others.”
VanDevelder said he was overjoyed to be included in such illustrious company.
“There’s so much white noise out there in the world today and so little bandwidth left on the margins for people to try new things,” he said. “To get above that white noise is very, very difficult,” he said.
VanDevelder attended the award ceremony with his family at the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said. “I think the knots started forming in my tummy about two weeks ago.”
The event has an fun and suspenseful way of announcing the winners. Nominated authors submit an excerpt of their book in advance, and the presenter reads the excerpt from the winning work, before revealing the author and title.
Oregon State University English and writing professor Tracy Daugherty announced the award for general nonfiction. Daugherty is a past winner of four Oregon book awards, including one last year for “Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme.”
“I knew by the second word that it was ‘Savages,’ and then you gotta just sit there,” VanDevelder recalled on Tuesday. “He did a beautiful job reading the excerpt, announced my name, and the place erupted. I could barely walk. I’m still not sure how I got from my seat to the stage.”
In his acceptance speech, VanDevelder thanked Daugherty for his friendship and also joked, “Tracy, thank you so much for not publishing a book last year.”
An author, investigative journalist and photographer for more than 25 years, VanDevelder’s work has appeared in a variety of publications. His previous book, “Coyote Warrior,” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. The Oregon Book Award for “Savages and Scoundrels” is his first.
VanDevelder recently finished a film script that he said he’s “been avoiding for about 20 years.”
Tentatively titled “Wild Eyes,” the script draws from his days as a photojournalist in Tucson, Ariz., in the early 1980s.
“It’s about the daily insanity of dealing with misery day in and day out,” he said. “It’s a story that wanted to be a film more than a book. ... It took me back to those days and that world.”
Other Oregon Book Award finalists with ties to Corvallis included Kathleen Dean Moore in the nonfiction category for her book "Wild Comfort," Jennifer Richter for her collection of poetry "Threshold," and OSU graduate Lisa Ohlen Harris, also for creative nonfiction, for her book “Through the Veil.”
The Oregon Book Awards are sponsored by the Oregon Arts Commission, the Oregon Cultural Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information, see literary-arts.org.
For more information on VanDevelder and his projects, see www.elbowoodscafe.com.
Contact reporter Nancy Raskauskas and email@example.com or 541-758-9542. Follow her on Twitter @NancyR10.