It was a big evening for poetry last night on Wall Street. At the National Book Awards, John Ashbery was honored for his lifetime achievement in the art, Nikky Finney won the award in poetry for her collection Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly Books), and in nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt took the prize for The Swerve (Norton), an exploration of Lucretius's poem "On the Nature of Things." As poet Ann Lauterbach put it in her introduction to Ashbery, "I thought I should point out, since nobody else has, that we are occuping Wall Street."
Poets—who Ashbery asserted in his acceptance speech, are very much distinct from writers—weren't the only voices that rose to recognition last night. In fiction, Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward won for her second book, Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury). Ward remarked in her acceptance speech that she is only at the beginning of her life's work, to write about "the poor, and the black, and the rural people of the South, so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, as fraught, as lovely, and important as theirs."
In the young adult category, Thanhha Lai won for her Vietnam War–era coming-of-age novel, Inside Out & Back Again (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers).
Each of the winners received ten thousand dollars, and the finalists were awarded one thousand dollars.
In the video below, Finney reads her poem "Penguin Mullet Bread."