Known for her poetry and her rock ‘n’ roll, punk music legend Patti Smith has now been honored for her prose with a National Book Award, given out Wednesday night in New York. Her prize-winning work of nonfiction, Just Kids, is a memoir of her early life in New York with her best friend, artist Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in1989.
“I know the story best and I know how Robert struggled as a young man and a young artist, and I promised him I would write it. But it took me a long time,” Smith told Jeffrey Brown about the book in an Art Beat interview last December.
Bloomberg reported that an emotional Smith described working as a clerk in a bookstore, shelving National Book Award winners and wondering what it would be like to win.
The fiction prize went to Lord of Misrule, the fourth novel by writer and professor Jaimy Gordon, which was published by small publisher McPherson & Co., which only publishes a couple of books a year. Gordon’s story takes place at the horse racetrack and centers around a scheme to save a troubled stable.
Terrance Hayes, a creative writing professor at Carnegie Mellon, received the poetry award for his collection Lighthead. The PBS NewsHour profiled Hayes in 2008. You can hear Hayes reading some of his older poems here at our Poetry Series.
Mockingbird, the winner for young people’s literature, tells the story of a 11-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome, and is based on To Kill a Mockingbird and the events of the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. Author Kathryn Erskine, whose other books include Quaking, was born in the Netherlands and lived in several different countries growing up. She now lives in Virginia.
An honorary award was also given to the “New Journalist” Tom Wolfe.