Irishman wins National Book Award for New York novel
Irish novelist Colum McCann took America’s most prestigious literary prize, the National Book Award for fiction, last night in Manhattan, reports the Associated Press. He won for Let the Great World Spin, his “act of hope” about 10 ordinary New Yorkers in the 1970s.
McGann, who has said he wrote the novel in response to the events of 9/11, uses the real life stunt of high-wire artist Philippe Petit. In 1974, Petit ilegally walked a tight rope between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, drawing an awed crowd in the streets below.
Accepting the award, McCann praised “the generosity ” of American fiction and of the American people, and dedicated the prize to fellow Irish immigrant, Frank McCourt, who died in July.
“As fiction writers and people who believe in the word, we have to enter the anonymous corners of human experience to make that little corner right,” McCann said, according to The New York Times.
Other winners in the 60th anniversary edition of the prize: T.J. Stiles, The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, for nonfction; Keith Waldrop, Transcendental Studies, for poetry; Phillip Hoose, Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice, for young people’s literature.
Gore Vidal, now 84, received an award for “distinguished contribution to American letters,” while the considerably younger Dave Eggers accepted a prize for outstanding service to the American literary community. In addition to his own books, Eggers is the founder of an influential independent publishing house, McSweeney’s, and 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing center for young people.
And, in the National Book Award’s first prize voted by readers, Flannery O’Connor was named the best winner of the first 60 years. Her Complete Stories beat out books by luminaries such as Ralph Ellison, Eudora Welty, John Cheever, Thomas Pynchon and William Faulkner.
The annual celebration of American literature was clouded by worrisome business and technological trends that some see as a threat to writing and publishing. Stiles, for example, thanked all the copy editors, editorial assistants and marketers at Knopf.
“The advent of the e-book is fooling people into thinking that none of these people are necessary anymore,” Stiles said. “If they cease to exist, the books will only be worth the paper they are not printed on.”
Eggers, however, said we live in “a golden age” of the written word. If the audience could see some of the young writers he’s met through 826 Valencia, he said, it would be “full of optimism.”
Host Andy Borowitz, a humorist who writes for The New Yorker, injected some levity into the proceedings. He joked that Sarah Palin’s just-released best-selling autobiography Going Rogue is the front runner for next year’s National Book Award for fiction.