Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Oprah's Picks - where are they now? Part 1

As the year comes to a close and people and news sources are putting together their best of lists - I've gotten to thinking about books that have had lots of media attention in the past and wondering where those authors are now. In particular, I've been thinking about Oprah's Book Club Picks. Oprah's Book Club has been making household names out of the authors whose books are chosen for the club since 1996. However, for the most part Oprah only ever picks one book by an author (two exceptions are Toni Morrison - whose books Oprah has picked 4 times - and Wally Lamb, whom she has selected twice) - so what happens when the spotlight is turned away, or more simply - where are these authors now?

Oprah started her book club in 1996 with Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard about an already troubled woman whose child goes missing. The novel was also the author's first, and surely a much helpful boost to Mitchard's profile. Mitchard has been busy since 1996, continuing to publish successful (although not nearly as successful as her first) novels of contemporary fiction and branching out into books for children and teens as well. Her website describes her 2006 book Cage of Stars - about a young girl dealing with the aftermath of witnessing her sisters being killed - as "her most critically acclaimed novel". This year she released a sequel to Deep End of the Ocean called No Time to Wave Goodbye.

A selection from 1997 was Ursula Hegi's German set, historical fiction novel Stones From the River. Hegi already had several books and accolades under her belt when Oprah made her selection, but certainly the inclusion in the club increased her fame and sales of a book that had already been out 3 years. Like Mitchard, Hegi is still busy writing and has published several well regarded books. Her most recent was 2007's
The Worst Thing I've Done, which Kirkus described as "grim, gripping fiction ... about childhood friends whose triangular relationship goes horribly wrong".

In 1998, Oprah highlighted another first novel with her selection of Edwidge Danticat's 1994 Breath, Eyes, Memory. By '98, the Haitian American author was already developing a strong following among critics and readers through reaction to her book of short stories Krik? Krak! and was just about to release a second novel called The Farming of Bones - all of which feature the experience of life in Haiti prominently. Danticat's reputation continues to grow: her 2007 memoir Brother, I'm Dying won the National Book Critics Circle Award and in 2009 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (AKA a genius grant).

One more for this post (we'll continue in further ones)... In 1999, Oprah picked a recently released first novel from author Breena Clarke called River, Cross My Heart. Historical fiction described by the Oprah website as "a novel of tragedy and triumph in the life of an African American family in Georgetown, circa 1925." Clarke hasn't been prolific but she has produced a follow-up novel - more historical fiction that focuses on the lives of African Americans called Stand the Storm. Well reviewed and nominated for the 2009 Hurston/Wright Foundation's Legacy Award.
Clarke is another author to keep an eye on.

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