Ward, Greenblatt win at U.S. National Book Awards

Thu Nov 17, 2011 12:42am EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday for "Salvage the Bones," about a poor Mississippi family confronting Hurricane Katrina, while Stephen Greenblatt took the nonfiction prize for "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern."

Ward, a young, Southern writer, was honored for her second book, published by Bloomsbury USA, which was told in the voice of a pregnant black teenager.

"I wanted to do something with my time here that would have meaning," she said, explaining she began writing partly as a response to her brother's death.

"This is a life's work, and I am only at the beginning," she told the audience at the 62nd annual awards, among the most prestigious in U.S. publishing, presented by the National Book Foundation.

The judges cited Ward's use of "piercing metaphor and simile," saying, "This is storytelling as skilled as it wise."

Greenblatt's "The Swerve," which chronicles the 15th-century rediscovery of an ancient Roman epic by Lucretius, which subsequently fueled the Renaissance and inspired great minds from Galileo to Freud, was lauded as "a work of intelligence, generosity and passion."

The Harvard professor said his book, published by W.W. Norton & Company, was "about the power of books to cross boundaries, to speak across" distance, space and time.

In choosing its winners, the Book Foundation honored writers from backgrounds often among the disenfranchised. Three of the four winners were women, two of them African-American and one a Vietnam native.   Continued...