Ward, Finney Are Among 2011 National Book Award Winners

BY Tom LeGro  November 16, 2011 at 11:13 PM EDT

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The 2011 National Book Awards were announced at a ceremony in New York Wednesday night, and the winners are…

Jesmyn Ward’s “Salvage the Bones,” a novel about a community and family devastated by Hurricane Katrina, won the award for fiction. Ward, who grew up in Mississippi, was home for the summer in 2005 and experienced the storm first-hand with her own family. “Salvage the Bones” is Ward’s second novel. Her first, “Where the Line Bleeds,” tells the story of twin brothers growing up in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, the setting for all of her fiction and based on her own hometown.

Jeffrey Brown spoke to Ward in August (transcript) about “Salvage the Bones”:

The poetry prize went to Nikky Finney for “Head Off & Split,” which explores African-American history.

“I know the sound of the ’60s and ’70s. There was a lot of standing with signs, there was a lot of shouting. I wanted to be a poet who didn’t shout, who said things but said them with the most beautiful attention to language,” Finney told the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader earlier this year. “I’ve been really working on this for 30 years, exploring how those two paths intersect, the path where the beautifully said thing meets the really difficult-to-say thing, and that’s where I think this book finds its light.”

Stephen Greenblatt’s “The Swerve,” about the Renaissance-era rediscovery of the Latin poet Lucretius, won for nonfiction, while Thanhhai Lai’s “Inside Out & Back Again,” the story of a Vietnamese family in Alabama, won for young people’s literature.

Honorary prizes were given to longtime bookseller Mitch Kaplan and poet John Ashbery, whom we profiled in 2007.