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Feast or famine in the literary world

Robert Olen Butler's new novel, "Mr. Spaceman" (reviewed Jan. 6), presents an encouraging vision of a futuristic alien, but his experience finding a publisher makes him less optimistic about the future of literary fiction. At a Barnes & Nobel recently, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author said books that don't fit neatly into categories will have an increasingly hard time seeing the light of a bookseller's shelves.

"When I finished this manuscript, my agent sent it out to 17 publishers. Sixteen turned it down. Only one - Grove/Atlantic - wanted it," he said. "Since then, a few editors who are willing to be honest with me have told me, 'We wanted it, but when we sent it upstairs to marketing' - as has to happen nowadays - 'they said, "No way! What is this thing? We wouldn't know how to market it." '

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"So that's where we are. Pulitzer or no Pulitzer. Over the next decade, literary fiction will be published on the Internet or the way poetry is published now." In other words, it might be as hard to spot as a UFO.

Meanwhile, nominations for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the world's richest literary prize ($130,000) for a single work of fiction, were announced Monday in New York:

Nicola Barker, "Wide Open"

Michael Cunningham, "Hours"

Jackie Kay, "Trumpet"

Colum McCann, "This Side of Brightness"

Alice McDermott, "Charming Billy"

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Toni Morrison, "Paradise"

Philip Roth, "I Married a Communist"

These contenders were chosen from 101 titles nominated by public libraries in 34 countries. The winner will be announced in Dublin May 9.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society