Wednesday, November 14, 2012 11:17 pm
Erdrich wins National Book Award for fiction
By HILLEL ITALIEAP National Writer
Erdrich, 58, has been a published and highly regarded author for nearly 30 years but had never won a National Book Award until being cited Wednesday for her story about an Ojibwe boy and his quest to avenge his mother's rape. A clearly delighted and surprised Erdrich, who's part Ojibwe, spoke in her tribal tongue and then switched to English as she dedicated her fiction award to "the grace and endurance of native people."
Boo's nonfiction book, set in a Mumbai slum, also is a story of a boy and his harsh and illuminating education in the consequences of crime or perceived crime. The author, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist currently on staff with The New Yorker, said she was grateful for the chance to live in a world she "didn't know" and for the chance to tell the stories of those otherwise ignored. She praised a fellow nominee and fellow Pulitzer-winning reporter, the late Anthony Shadid, for also believing in stories of those without fame or power.
Poetry winner David Ferry is a year older than one of the night's honorary recipients, Elmore Leonard. Ferry, 88, won for "Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations," a showcase for his versatile style. He fought back tears as he confided that he thought there was a chance for winning because he "was so much older" than the other nominees. He called the award a "pre-posthumous" honor.
The other competitive prize Wednesday went to William Alexander, whose "Goblin Secrets" won for young people's literature.
Alexander quoted fellow fantasy writer Ursula Le Guin in highlighting the importance of stories for shaping kids' imaginations and making the world a larger place than the one they live in.
"We have to remember that," Alexander said.
The ceremony went smoothly even though Superstorm Sandy badly damaged the offices of the award's organizer, the National Book Foundation, whose staffers had to work with limited telephone and mail access.
Winners, chosen by panels of fellow writers, each received $10,000. Judges looked through nearly 1,300 books.
Honorary prizes were given to Leonard and New York Times publisher and chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.