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Louise Erdrich joined the ranks of authors such as William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, and John Updike late November 14, when it was announced that her book, “The Roundhouse,” had won the National Book Award for Fiction. The novel is about a young teenage boy on a Native American reservation struggling to come to terms with racial injustice. Erdrich, herself part Native American, started off her acceptance speech in her Native American language before continuing in English.
Said Erdrich: “This is a book about a huge case of injustice ongoing on reservations. Thank you for giving it a wider audience.”
The other fiction nominees this year were “This is How You Lose Her,” by Junot Diaz, “A Hologram for the King,” by Dave Eggers, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” by Ben Fountain, and “The Yellow Birds,” the debut work of Kevin Powers. Although the National Book Award usually favors obscure writers, this year showed a remarkable number of heavyweights among the finalists. Diaz received a MacArthur Genius Grant this past year for his work, while both Eggers and Erdrich have received Pulitzer prize nominations before.
The non-fiction category was no less competitive, with Pulitzer prize winning journalists included in the pack. Ultimately Katherine Boo won the award with her searing examination of life in the slums of Mumbai, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.”
William Alexander won in the Young People’s Literature category for “Goblin Secrets” and David Ferry was awarded the poetry prize for his “Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations.” Ferry, 88, thought he had a decent chance at winning, if for no other reason than he was so much older than the other nominees, meaning this might be his last chance to win. “My only hope was a preposterous pre-posthumous award,” he said, “and I guess that is what I have won here.”
Winners receive $10,000 and a bronze statuette for the prize. Judges this year read over 1,300 books prior to deciding on finalists.
Elmore Leonard won the award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, an award honoring lifetime achievement that has previously gone to writers as diverse as Toni Morrison and Stephen King. Summing up, he said, “I am energized by this honor. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do in my life is tell stories, and this award tells me I am still good at it.”
The National Book Award has catapulted writers such as Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy out of obscurity and into popular authors. It is not uncommon to see finalists for the National Book Award go on to win other prizes. Could this be just the beginning for Erdrich?
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