The 2013 National Book Awards, some of the most coveted of literary prizes, were announced last night at a gala event, held at New YOrk's landmark Cipriani Wall Street.
James McBride, author of The Good Lord Bird, was such an underdog, he had no prepared speech when he accepted the fiction prize. In 1857, abolitionist John Brown kills a slave owner and rescues Little Onion, the narrator of McBride's brilliant novel. Complication the inexorable lead-up to the raid at Harper's Ferry is that Brown mistakenly thinks Little Onion (a.k.a Henry Shackleford) is a girl, a disguise that Little Onion struggles to maintain. Visibly shaken by the award, McBride said the writing of his book saved him during a difficult period of his life when his mother and a much-loved niece died and his marriage fell apart.
George Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker captured the non-fiction category for his searing examination of the class warfare currently being waged in America. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America is based on dozens of interviews of the mainstays of economic stability have been eroded by the actions of Wall Street and the big banks.
In the poetry category, Mary Szybist won for Incarnadine. Szybist, a professor at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, is no stranger to the spotlight. Her first collection of poetry, Granted (2003) which was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry.
Cynthia Kadohata, a 2005 Newbery Medal winner for Kira-Kira, took home the award last night in the young people's literature category for The Thing about Luck. Twelve-year-old Japanese American Summer and her little brother are left in the care of their old-school grandparents when their mother and father are called away to Japan to care for an ailing relative.
The Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community was presented to Maya Angelou by her friend Toni Morrision.In presenting the award, Ms. Morrison said, "Dr. Maya Angelou, you improve our world by drawing from us, forcing from us our better selves."
Each winner received $10,000 and a statue made of bronze.