National Book Awards include McCann, Eggers, Vidal

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The National Book Award for Fiction went to Colum McCann for his novel ‘Let the Great World Spin,’ a story of New York in 1974 that doubles as an allegory of 9/11. It was the final award at the black-tie event Wednesday evening in New York City.

‘In a certain way, novelists become unacknowledged historians, because we talk about small, tiny, little anonymous moments that won’t necessarily make it into the history books,’ McCann told the L.A. Times last week. ‘I think we need stories, and we need to tell the stories over and over and over not only to remind us, but to be able to have that clarity of experience that changes us, so that we know who we are now because of who we have been at some other time.’


Juried awards were presented in three other categories. The nonfiction prize was awarded to T.J. Stiles for ‘The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.’ Poetry went to Keith Waldrop, for ‘Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy,’ published by the University of California Press. Phillip Hoose took the award for young adult literature for ‘Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice’; Colvin joined him on the stage.

Two awards were known in advance: Gore Vidal received the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and Dave Eggers the Literarian Award. Those were presented before dinner -- downsized to chicken from last year’s lamb -- after which the competition awards were announced.

A new award -- the Best of the National Book Awards -- was presented to celebrate the awards’ 60th anniversary. After weeks of revisiting all the previous winners, five finalists were set to a public vote. More than 10,000 people voted online, and tonight, Flannery O’Connor’s ‘The Complete Stories’ beat out books by John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon and Eudora Welty to take the honor.

Since its start in 1950, the National Book Foundation, led by publishing professionals, has striven to reward excellence in American literature. It may not be the Oscars, but it’s about as close as the publishing world gets.

-- Carolyn Kellogg