Last night at a ceremony in New York City, James McBride received the National Book Award for his novel The Good Lord Bird, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, this past August.
Victoria Will/Associated Press
A surprised McBride took the stage and said that he had not prepared a speech, as he hadn’t planned on winning. Considered the underdog of the shortlist, he beat out finalists Rachel Kushner, for her novel The Flamethrowers; Jhumpa Lahiri, for her novel The Lowland; Thomas Pynchon, for his novel Bleeding Edge; and George Saunders, for his short story collection Tenth of December. Charles Baxter, Gish Jen, Charles McGrath, Rick Simonson, and René Steinke judged.
McBride, the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir The Color of Water and the novels Miracle at St. Anna and Song Yet Sung, said he wrote his latest novel, about the journey of a young slave in the 1850s, amidst the death of his mother and the dissolution of his marriage.
The poetry award went to Mary Szybist for her collection Incarnadine, published by Graywolf Press. George Packer won in nonfiction for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The award in young people’s literature went to Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck.
Maya Angelou received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, a prize that was presented by Toni Morrison. E. L. Doctorow received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
The winners of the National Book Award each received $10,000. The awards are given annually by the National Book Foundation for works of literature published in the previous year.