On Wednesday night the winners of the 2012 National Book Awards were announced at Cipriani's ballroom in New York City. The awards, presented by the National Book Foundation, rank alongside the Pulizter in prestige. This year the field was extremely competitive. Hosted by Faith Salie, the event was quite the red carpet affair. Attendees included authorial heavyweights like Stephen King and Walter Mosley. Winners were announced in each of four categories.
The National Book Award for Fiction went to Louise Erdrich for The Round House. Erdrich has written not only novels, but also poetry, essays, and short stories. She often incorporates her Native American heritage in her novels and even gave part of her acceptance speech in Ojibwe. Erdrich has been named one of the major writers of the Native American Renaissance.
This year's nominees for fiction included other high profile authors: Junot Diaz (This Is How You Lose Her), who has also won a Pulitzer; and Dave Eggers (A Hologram for a King). Previous winners include such legendary authors as Saul Bellow, William Faulkner, and John Updike.
Non-FictionKatherine Boo's first book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, emerged as the winner of the non-fiction category. Boo has had a distinguished career as a journalist who explores the plight of poor and disadvantaged people. She earned the 2000 Pulitzer for Public Service for her Washington Post series about group homes for people with mental retardation.
Other finalists for the National Book Award for non-fiction were the late journalist Anthony Shadid, who wrote for The New York Times and The Washington Post; and Robert Caro, celebrated biographer of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson who won the award in 2002. Boo's award places her in the company of Gore Vidal and Joan Didion.
Young People's LiteratureWilliam Alexander earned this year's National Book Award for young people's literature for his debut novel, Goblin Secrets. Alexander teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and plans to release his second book, Ghoulish Song, in March. Prior winners of the award for young people's literature (some years called "children's books" or "children's fiction") are Isaac Bashevis Singer, Katherine Paterson, Madeleine L'Engle, and Maurice Sendak.
PoetryDavid Ferry won this year's poetry award for Bewilderment. The author of eight poetry collections, Ferry is also a translator and literary critic. He's earned the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets (where he is a fellow) and the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress.
Prior winners have sometimes fallen into obscurity, only to reemerge later as significant figures in American poetry. Exceptional poets like WH Auden, Philip Levine, and Allen Ginsberg are among previous winners of the poetry category. For several years (1984-1990), awards were only given in the fiction and non-fiction categories, so there are only 52 winners.
Honorary AwardsElmore Leonard received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Perhaps best known for Get Shorty, Leonard began writing Westerns but soon moved into crime and suspense novels. His works have inspired multiple movie adaptations, notably 3:10 to Yuma. He says he's currently working on what will be his 46th novel.
Arthur O Sulzberger, Jr received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Chairman and Publisher of The New York Times, Sulzberger earned the award for his "continued efforts to ensure an ongoing conversation about books in American culture."