Young People’s Literature: Goblin Secrets , William Alexander
Alexander took home the prize for his debut novel, a steampunk-inspired, jam-packed romp in the land of Zombay, where no one is allowed to pretend to be anyone other than who they are, because of the special, strange magic that creates. Alexander quoted Ursula K. Le Guin, reminding us that “The literature of the imagination is important because it gives us a world large enough to contain alternatives, and it gives us hope.”
Poetry: Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations , David Ferry
The 88-year-old Ferry, whose collection swirls around the questions — both essential and superficial — of our mortal lives, teared up as he accepted his award, admitting that he didn’t think he had a chance to win because of his age, and calling the award a “pre-posthumous” honor. The judges praised his work as “singing about the human condition as casually and ferociously as it is lived.”
Non-Fiction: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity , Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo beat out a rather high-profile board to win the prize, especially considering that this book, a deeply affecting account of the life of families living in the slums around Mumbai luxury hotels, is her debut effort (then again, she is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist on staff at The New Yorker). “If this prize means anything,” she said when accepting the award, “it is that small stories in so-called hidden places matter because they implicate and complicate what we consider to be the larger story, which is the story of people who do have political and economic powers.”
Fiction: The Round House , Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich’s excellent novel The Round House, details a teenage boy attempting to avenge and understand the rape of his mother on a North Dakota reservation. Erdrich, herself of Native American heritage, accepted the prize both in English and in her native tongue. “I would like to accept this in recognition of the grace and the endurance of native women,” she said. “This is a book about a huge case of injustice ongoing on reservations. Thank you for giving it a wider audience.” If No Doubt’s recent music video was a step backwards for the sexualization of Native American women, this is surely a huge leap forward.
The award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters went to the wonderful novelist Elmore Leonard, and the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community was given to Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher of The New York Times.