Erdrich, Ferry Take Home National Book Awards

BY Molly Finnegan  November 15, 2012 at 10:09 AM EDT

Two weeks ago, the offices of the National Book Foundation were flooded during super-storm Sandy, and by Wednesday night this week, the office were still closed until further notice.

But the show went on. The National Book Awards were handed out at a dinner in New York to four new books, whose subjects ranged from life on a Native American reservation to a settlement community in Mumbai.

Louise Erdrich won the fiction prize for “The Round House,” a novel about a crime against a woman on an Ojibwe reservation from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy. Erdrich said she would accept the award in the spirit of the “grace and endurance of native women” and thanked the foundation for giving the story a wider audience.

Watch Jeffrey Brown’s interview with Louise Erdrich about “The Round House” below and see her read an excerpt from the novel here.


“Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations” by David Ferry was honored in the poetry category. The poet, who is in his late 80s, gave an emotional acceptance speech, praising the other finalists and joking that he considered it a “preposterous, pre-posthumous” award. “Bewilderment” moves between his own new poems alongside new translations of classical poetry.

Listen to David Ferry read “Scrim”:

Audio provided by the Poetry Foundation.

Journalist Katherine Boo won the award for nonfiction. In a reference to the 2012 election, she said, taking the stage, “I find myself, like Mitt Romney the other night, without a speech.” Author of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” Boo said that for her, the meaning of the award was that “small stories and so-called hidden places matter.” Historian and author Woody Holton, a judge on the panel, said Boo’s work had invented a new genre of nonfiction.

William Alexander, who studied folklore and theater in college, won the Young People’s Literature prize for his children’s fantasy novel “Goblin Secrets,” about a troupe of goblin actors whose theatrical masks are used not only for make-believe.

Special awards were presented to Elmore Leonard and New York Times publisher and chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.

Leonard, honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, is known for his westerns, crime short stories, novels and screenplays.

“My books are about people,” Leonard said, pausing, “…with guns.”

Those books include “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” and the short story “Three-Ten to Yuma,” all of which have been adapted into major Hollywood films. (Read Leonard’s 10 tips for writers, via the New York Times.)

In a speech leading up to her announcement of the fiction prize, novelist Lorrie Moore reflected on why one acts as a judge for the National Book Awards. “One does it for the champagne, of course,” she said teasingly. And, she added, for the “deep mind-meld” inherent in sharing reading.

You can see the full list of the 2012 National Book Award finalists here and watch the finalists read from their work at The New School in New York on Tuesday:

The NewsHour talked to some of the other finalists about their work this year:

“This Is How You Lose Her”
Jeffrey Brown talked to Junot Diaz while the author was on tour for his latest book, “This Is How You Lose Her,” a short story collection steered by the same character narrator, Yunior, as his his first novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008. “This Is How You Lose Her,” which Diaz actually started before “Oscar Wao,” is about “ways we fall into strange relationships and how some relationships just really haunt us a long time,” Diaz said. Though he didn’t win a National Book Award, the author was honored with the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in October.

Listen to a conversation between Junot Diaz and Jeffrey Brown.

“The Passage of War”
In May, Gwen Ifill talked to historian Robert Caro about the latest installment of his nearly four decades worth of biographical work on President Lyndon Baines Johnson. “The Passage of War” documents the transformational period for LBJ from 1960-1964, including his challenging experience as vice president and his ascension to the presidency after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.


“The Yellow Birds”
The NewsHour recently aired a version of Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with writer Kevin Powers on Veteran’s Day. Powers served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Iraq War. When he left the service, he started writing in order to process some of his experiences and feelings. “The Yellow Birds” tells a story both from the front lines and the return to civilian life, about the feelings of powerlessness and randomness brought on by war.

You can watch the full interview below and see Powers read from his novel here.