2005 National Book Award Winner

William T. Vollmann

Europe Central by William T. Vollmann

Europe Central


Acceptance Speech


Good evening. I will be very brief. It was a true joy and an honor to read through this mountain of books these last four months. I thank the National Book Foundation and Harold Augenbraum for allowing me to do this. I want to publicly thank my hardworking judges, Rikki Ducornet, Cristina Garcia, Thomas LeClair and Anna Quindlen. They worked hard. [Applause]

William T. Vollmann and Andre Dubus III Photo credit: Robin Platzer/Twin ImagesAt this point in the evening, I’m so nervous I’m about to throw up and I’m not one of the finalists. So I’m going to get right to it. The finalists for this year’s National Book Award for Fiction are:

The March by E.L. Doctorow, published by Random House;
Veronica by Mary Gaitskill, published by Pantheon;
Trance by Christopher Sorrentino, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux;
Holy Skirts by René Steinke, published by William Morrow;
Europe Central by William T. Vollmann, published by Viking Press.

The winner of this year’s National Book Award for Fiction is Europe Central by William T. Vollmann.

William T. Vollmann and Andre Dubus III (Photo credit: Robin Platzer/Twin Images)


I thought I would lose so I didn’t prepare a speech. Well, let’s put it this way: When I was in elementary school, they showed me a film loop about burned corpses being pulled out of ovens. I was really horrified, and later on I understood that I was partly German. I thought, you know, am I somehow guilty for this? I mean, I probably have relatives over there who had something to do with the Third Reich. How could this possibly be?

William T. Vollmann at the 2005 National Book Awards Ceremony as he is announced the winner for Fiction.  (Photo credit: Robin Platzer/Twin Images)

I really have tried for many years to read myself into this horrible event and imagine how anyone could have done this, whether I could have done this, and that was what that book was about. I’m very happy that it’s over and I don’t have to think about it any more.

I’m very grateful to my wife for being here. I want to thank my agent, Susan Golomb, for all her hard work on my behalf. I’m so grateful to Paul Slovak and Viking for taking care of me for so many years. Thanks to the National Book Foundation. I never expected this honor. Thank you. [Applause]

William T. Vollmann at the 2005 National Book Awards Ceremony as he is announced the winner for Fiction.
(Photo credit: Robin Platzer/Twin Images)


It’s good to see a big prize go to a very nice young man. Thank you all for this evening. Thanks to all of our sponsors for putting on this wonderful festive occasion. Thanks again to all of the judges for doing the hard work. Congratulations to all the nominees. Good night.


From the Publisher

A mesmerizing series of intertwined stories that compare and contrast the moral decisions made by various figures associated with the warring authoritarian cultures of Germany and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century.

William T. Vollmann is the author of seven novels, three collections of stories, and one work of nonfiction. His literary awards include a PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction and a 1988 Whiting Writers Award. His journalism and fiction have been published in The New Yorker, Esquire, Spin, Gear, Granta, Grand Street and Outside Magazine.

Judges' Citation

Europe Central is a half-continent of fictions—sketches, stories, novellas, a full-length novel--reimagining a World War II where Americans are a distant presence. Like an all-hearing intelligence agent, Vollmann occupies the minds of Germans and Russians, artists and generals, victims and torturers in impossible ethical quandaries. Scrupulously researched, rigorously designed, scarifingly voiced, this omnibus is heroic art, the writer’s courageous immersion in totalitarian ugliness to retrieve forgotten moral heroes. Full of terror and pity, Vollmann’s narratives go back beyond tragedy to the historical mastery of epic.