U.S. National Book Awards go to slave, outlaw books

Wed Nov 19, 2008 11:05pm EST
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By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A book about a slave family with ties to U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and novel about a notorious Florida outlaw were among the winners at America's 59th annual National Book Awards on Wednesday.

Annette Gordon-Reed won the Nonfiction Award for "The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family" while Peter Matthiessen took the Fiction Award for "Shadow Country."

Gordon-Reed's book, published by W.W. Norton & Company, tells the story of a slave family, the Hemingses, from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to its dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826.

An earlier book by Gordon-Reed concluded that Jefferson had fathered children by his slave Sally Hemings and DNA testing later established a genetic link between the two families.

"It's wonderful to have the book come out at this time," said Gordon-Reed, referring to the election of Barack Obama as the first black U.S. president. "All Americans are on a great journey now."

Matthiessen's "Shadow Country," published by Modern Library, reimagines the legend of Everglades sugar planter and notorious outlaw E.J. Watson, who drives himself relentlessly toward his own violent end at the hands of neighbors.

The judges wrote that the book "is an epic of American rise and descent -- poetic, mythic, devastating."

The Poetry Award went to Mark Doty for "Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems," published by HarperCollins, which mixes Doty's new work with the best from his previous seven books.   Continued...