The 2012 National Book Awards took place tonight, when accolades were given in each of four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry and Young People's Literature.
The winners were:
Fiction: Louise Erdrich, The Round House
Young People's Literature: William Alexander, Goblin Secrets
Erdrich said "I would like to accept this in recognition of the grace and the endurance of native women." Though fiction, her book is about what she described as an "ongoing injustice", detailing a crime on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. Erdrich is of Native American descent, and began her acceptance speech in the Ojibwe language.
Boo's book is about the slums of Mumbai, a place she has been visiting for more than a decade. "Small stories in so-called hidden places matter," she said in accepting the award.
The oldest winner was the 88-year-old poet David Ferry, who described his win as "pre-posthumous." The Young People's winner, William Alexander, quoted Ursula Le Guin in accepting the award for his fantasy novel, Goblin Secrets: "The literature of the imagination is important because it gives us a world large enough to contain alternatives, and it gives us hope."
Additionally, Elmore Leonard and Arthur O. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, were given Lifetime Achievement Awards, Leonard for his body of work and Sulzberger for the Times Book Review's contributions to the literary community.
Martin Amis presented Leonard with his award, "Whereas genre fiction relies on plot, mainstream fiction famously only has about 12 plots... Mr Leonard only has one plot - all his stories are retellings of Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale, in which death stalks the land, disguised as money."
In his acceptance speech, Leonard, author of 46 novels, said "My books are about people with guns in dire situations," and described his favorite review as coming from the New Musical Express magazine, which described him as "the poet laureate of wild assholes with revolvers."
Perhaps the most notable literary prize in America, the National Book Awards are in their 63rd year. Past winners have included both revered literary greats - William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow - and forgotten talents.
This year's awards took place at Cipriani's ballroom on Wall Street in New York, and deliberately tried to add a measure of glitz to what has in some years been reported as a fairly dour affair. The 2012 event featured a red carpet and big-name literary attendees including Stephen King and Walter Mosley. The host of the evening was Faith Salie.
Whether the awards accurately predict which books will catch fire with the American public has been a point of contention among writers. Critic James Wood called literary awards "the new reviews," but Salon's Laura Miller has called the National Book Awards "irrelevant," saying that the 2011 finalists were "an assortment of low-profile and/or small-press offerings, with the exception of Tea Obrecht’s bestselling debut, The Tiger’s Wife."
A member of the 2011 Fiction panel, Victor LaValle, denied accusations that he and other judges chose intentionally obscure and heady nominees, stating, "These five books worked some special kind of magic on us. In the end, what’s any good reader really hoping for? That spark. That spell."
Still, literary heavyweights aren't always overlooked. Last year's winners in the Nonfiction and Poetry categories were favorites Stephen Greenblatt and Nikky Finney, and this year's lists were seen as containing a number of significant names.