Carrie Rengers

Watermark Books & Cafe owner to serve on 2015 National Book Awards fiction panel

Watermark Books & Cafe owner Sarah Bagby has been chosen to serve on the fiction panel of the 2015 National Book Awards.
Watermark Books & Cafe owner Sarah Bagby has been chosen to serve on the fiction panel of the 2015 National Book Awards. Courtesy photo

If he doesn’t know her already, Sarah Bagby’s mail carrier is about to get to know her really well.

That’s because the owner of Watermark Books & Cafe is on the fiction panel to judge the 2015 National Book Awards, and she’s going to receive about 400 entries to read before the November awards.

“It’s a prestigious award,” Bagby says. “It’s like the Oscars of the book world.”

And it’s a big deal for her to be selected as a judge, especially as a bookseller.

“I’m only the third one,” she says.

Bagby had a quick reaction when asked if she’d like to participate.

“Of course.”

The other fiction panelists are author and Peru native Daniel Alarcon; poet and novelist Jeffery Renard Allen; crime writer Laura Lippman; and author David L. Ulin, who also is the book critic for the Los Angeles Times.

“I’m excited about my panel because I think it’s a very diverse panel,” Bagby says.

The panelists will have their first conference call next week. Bagby says they’ll establish parameters for judging.

“You have to set yourself up with some criteria just so you can choose.”

Books in contention have to be published between Dec. 1, 2014, and Nov. 30 of this year. Bagby will receive advance copies in some cases.

She says judges will cut the contenders to 10 around early September and then to five by early October.

“And then the day of the awards, we’re sent off to lunch at some undisclosed location in Manhattan.”

Bagby says they’ll leave the lunch with a winner.

“Only the panel knows,” she says. “It’s very exciting.”

And very difficult.

“The entries are going to be excellent books,” Bagby says. “The painful part is taking it from five to one. You feel ownership of them, and by that time you really want them all to win. So that’s the tough one.”

Though she already reads a lot of fiction, Bagby is rearranging her work schedule to allow more time to read manuscripts in the mornings.

Bagby has served on other panels previously.

“It’s interesting reading as a judge because you change the way you look at a book typically,” she says.

There are a number of ways she might read a book, Bagby says. It might be as a bookseller or as someone who is helping build a debut novel. She could be serving on a jury for a major prize or simply reading for herself.

Bagby says she’s not going into judging thinking of any front-runners.

“Are there certain books that I’ve loved? Yes. Are there certain books I want everybody to buy? Yes.”

She says she has to wait for the judging criteria to be established to determine what books might fit.

This is the first time Bagby will get to attend the National Book Awards.

“It’s pretty exclusive,” she says.

The big question is, of course, is she thinking about her outfit?

“I am,” Bagby says. “I’ve thought a lot about it. … You look at your closet, and you think, do I have to buy a new something?”

Yes, she does, Babgy’s friends insist.

“My friends are like, ‘OK, I’m taking you shopping.’ So I’m going to have to go on about five different shopping excursions.”

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @CarrieRengers.

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