Maya Angelou, E.L. Doctorow to get honorary National Book Awards

Maya Angelou sits for a photo in Beverly Hills.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

The National Book Foundation has announced that Maya Angelou is this year’s recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community.

Over Angelou’s 50-plus years as a writer and poet, she has won many awards -- including three Grammys, the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and over 30 honorary degrees -- but the Literarian Award could be considered her first major literary prize.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press after the announcement Thursday, Angelou said the prize made her feel like she was “picking in high cotton.”


“What I have always wanted is to be of use. I will not be abused. I will not be misused -- not willingly. But I will be of use. Anybody who is not of use is useless,” she said.

Angelou may be best known for her memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and for her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning,” which sold hundreds of thousands of copies after being read at President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

In addition to Angelou’s award, the National Book Foundation also announced that E.L. Doctorow will receive the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Doctrow, the author of “Ragtime” and the National Book Award-winning “World’s Fair,” along with many other works of fiction and nonfiction, told the AP that a serious award like this is “gratifying” and that it “affirm[s] the continuity of our literary culture.”


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