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Authors Celebrated At 70th Anniversary Of National Book Awards


And the award goes to - well, let's find out. Last night, authors were honored at the annual National Book Awards, the Oscars of the publishing world. This year marked its 70th anniversary. NPR's Lynn Neary was there for the festivities and has this report.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: The National Book Awards ceremony is a glittering affair, a stark contrast to the solitary life of a writer. This year, there was one writer for whom that was especially true. Albert Woodfox was a finalist in the nonfiction category for his book "Solitary," which he wrote with Leslie George. It's the story of the 40 years he served in solitary confinement for a crime he did not commit. Woodfox said it felt surreal to be there last night.

ALBERT WOODFOX: Because I never dreamed of it. This was never - I had a lot of hopes and dreams and - but this, the recognition - just the fact that the literary world has acknowledged the hard work we've put into writing this book is a win.

NEARY: Fiction finalist Marlon James, who was born in Jamaica, was nominated for "Black Leopard, Red Wolf." He was also surprised to find himself at the event.

MARLON JAMES: It's kind of overwhelming. You know, I became an American in May, and then I got nominated for a National Book Award. I was like, wow, welcome to America, me. Does this happen to everybody who becomes American? I don't know.

NEARY: In addition to the nominated authors, there are two lifetime achievement awards. This year, Oren Teicher, retiring CEO of the American Booksellers Association, was honored for his service to the American literary community. And Edmund White, known for his writing about gay life in America, took home the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.


EDMUND WHITE: When I started submitting novels in the pre-Stonewall 1960s, my gay subject matter was offensive, especially since I didn't write about hustlers or criminals or drag queens, but rather about the middle-class guy sharing an office with you. The familiar is more threatening than the exotic.

NEARY: This year's winner for translated works was "Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming" by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, who shared the award with his translator Ottilie Mulzet. The author expressed his gratitude to the National Book Foundation, which recently reinstated the translation award.


LASZLO KRASZNAHORKAI: It is a tremendous joy that through our translators, we, too, can cross these heavy borders. We, too, can be at home in the United States of America.

NEARY: The award for nonfiction went to Sarah Broom for "The Yellow House," the story of the house Broom's mother bought in 1961, a house where she raised a family of 12, a house that was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina. In her acceptance speech, Broom acknowledged the role her mother played in shaping her as a writer.


SARAH BROOM: She was always wolfing down words - insatiable - which is how I learned the ways in which words were a kind of sustenance, could be a beautiful relief or a greatest assault, how I learned that words were the best map. Make me know, my mother was always saying, in between raising 12 humans. I am in this room - semicolon - and so is my mother.

NEARY: Susan Choi's "Trust Exercise," a novel that starts out as a love story and morphs into a meditation on the art of fiction, won the award for fiction. Arthur Sze took home the poetry honors for "Sight Lines." And the award for young people's literature went to Martin Sandler for "1919 The Year That Changed America."

Lynn Neary, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO NOVEL'S "SCINTILLATIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.