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Blake Bailey Autobiography Named a Finalist for National Book Critics Award

Old Dominion University English professor Blake Bailey was named a finalist this week for a National Book Critics Circle award.

Bailey is a finalist in the autobiography category for his memoir: "The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait," which was published last year by W.W. Norton & Co. It is his fifth book and follows the highly regarded biographies: "Farther & Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson," in 2013; "Cheever: A Life," in 2009; and "A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates," in 2003.

Bailey is the Mina Hohenberg Professor of Creative Writing at ODU.

The National Book Critics Circle was founded in 1974 and awarded its first set of honors in 1975. The organization is comprised of more than 700 working critics and book-review editors throughout the country. It presents awards in six categories, honoring the best books published in the past year in the United States.

The awards will be presented on March 12, 2015, at the New School, in New York City.

Bailey said he started "The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait" more than a decade ago when he was between books.

"A memoir is a very different animal from a literary biography, which is what I usually write," he said. "So it's all the more thrilling to see my long years of fussing over this book - of trying to see my family in the round - receive this kind of recognition. Maybe I'll write another memoir after I finish my current book about Philip Roth - that is, in about ten years or so."

According to Bailey's publisher, the memoir is "his darkly funny account of growing up in the shadow of an erratic and increasingly dangerous brother, an exhilarating and sometimes harrowing story that culminates in one unforgettable Christmas."

A New York Times review notes that Blake uses "a surprising degree of humor and frankness" in the memoir while describing some of the most humiliating moments of his life.

"Blake is freed from the biographer's burden of fleshing out his story with layers of fact and detail. This is a slender book, one that relies only on memory and acknowledges memory's weakness, especially when alcoholism is involved. And however painful the process of putting it together might have been, he gives it a novelist's flair," writes Janet Maslin. "This narrative begins slowly, but it quickly picks up steam and becomes a sleek, dramatic, authentically lurid story fueled by candid fraternal rivalry. However aghast and pained he is at the mounting calamities in his brother's life, there is a part of him that not so secretly reveled in being the survivor."

To read the full review, visit the New York Times Books page.

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