Louise Erdrich, Katherine Boo win National Book Awards
Novelist Louise Erdrich and journalist Katherine Boo took the top prizes at the National Book Awards in New York on Wednesday night. Although set half a world apart, both women’s books express what Boo described as “small stories in so-called hidden places.”
Erdrich won the fiction award for “The Round House,” set among the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The author of more than a dozen novels, Erdrich spoke in Ojibwe and English in her speech, citing “the grace and endurance of Native women.”
Boo won the nonfiction award for “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” a book that chronicled three years in the life of an impoverished family in the Annawadi slum. The author thanked her husband, who persuaded her to write about poverty, as well as her translators, her literary agent and her publishers - the “ferocious women at Random House.”
The National Book Foundation, which sponsors the awards, has undertaken a high-profile campaign to bring a new measure of glamour to the event. It presented the awards at a black-tie dinner at Cipriani in New York City, hosted an afterparty with a DJ and, for the first time, had a red carpet for arriving authors. Hollywood didn’t exactly come calling; the brightest stars at the event were literary lion Martin Amis and best-selling author Stephen King.
In recent years, genre fiction writers like King have been embraced by the literary establishment. That’s due in part to the high bar set by longtime pulp writer Elmore Leonard, whom Amis presented with the organization’s lifetime achievement award, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
The poetry prize lauded the work of octogenarian David Ferry, who won for “Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations.”
“Goblin Secrets,” a fantasy novel by William Alexander, won the award for Young People’s Literature.