Andrea Barrett accepts the 1996 National Book Award in Fiction for Ship Fever and Other Stories

November 1996

Acceptance Speech


I’m truly so surprised. I’m very thrilled to be here and just to be included in this group of nominees was such an amazing honor. I really didn’t expect anything more than this.

The books here tonight are ones I just admire enormously, the other books in the group. Elizabeth McCracken’s The Giant’s House, which is a beautifully imagined love story. It’s a terrific book. The seemingly disparate worlds that are brought together in Janet Perry’s The River Beyond the World is completely unforgettable. Steven Milhauser’s brilliant Portrait of a 19th Century Entrepreneur is a book that I’ll remember all my life. It seems to hold the whole American dream within it and I admire it enormously. And Ron Hansen’s Atticus which is just a splendid portrayal of filial love and he’s also the author of Mariette In Ecstasy, which is a book I admire just unreservedly and teach very often and re-read very often. So just to be in this group of people seemed quite extraordinary to me.

Like any of the nominees, I’m very acutely aware of how much my good fortune depends on the hard work and support of very many other people, and I would like to try and thank some of them now. Among those I’d like to thank are the editors of the small magazines in which these stories were first published. The National Endowment of the Arts, which granted me a fellowship at a crucial time in my career and made the writing of these stories possible at all and is now in such danger and is so important to all of us that we support that.

My first editor, Jane Rosenman, who stuck with me through four novels, although none were commercially successful. My dear friend Margo Livesey with whom I share work in early stages, and upon whose guidance I rely with every book I write. My agent, Wendy Weil, who’s helped me completely and with everything since the beginning, always with good humor and always with wisdom. My husband, Barry Goldstein, who believed in me from the beginning and is the rock upon which I lean. And my editor at Norton, Carol Houck Smith.

Many of you know Carol and if you do, you know she’s one of the great angels of literature. Ship Fever was a difficult book to edit, to design, to get into the hands of reviewers and book store sellers, and Carol was it’s champion at every stage. I can’t thank her enough and this award is partly hers. Thank you, Carol, and thank all of you very much.

—Andrea Barrett