The 65th annual National Book Awards were held on November 19 at Cipriani Wall Street, in a ceremony emceed by Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket). Publishers, editors, agents, writers, and other members of the industry all gathered to celebrate the winners of the award, one of the most prestigious in American literature.
Jacqueline Woodson won the award in young people’s literature, the first prize of the night, for Brown Girl Dreaming (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books), a memoir in verse. In her acceptance speech, Woodson told the audience, “I love how much love there is in the world of young adult and children’s literature.”
Pulitzer Prize–winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück took home the poetry award for her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night (FSG). Glück, who had been shortlisted for the prize three previous times, was “astonished” to have won this year, and said that her work “would not exist without the work of the other finalists.”
Evan Osnos took home the nonfiction prize for Age of Ambition, a journalistic exploration of contemporary China. In his speech, Osnos thanked the people who spoke with him there, who “live in a place where it’s very dangerous to be honest.”
The fiction award went to Phil Klay for his debut story collection, Redeployment (Penguin Press), which grapples with the war in Afghanistan. Klay, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, said, “I can’t think of a more important conversation to be having. War is too strange to be processed alone.”
In addition to the awards honoring the year’s best titles, children’s author Mary Pope Osborne presented the Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Kyle Zimmer, cofounder of the nonprofit First Book, which distributes new books to children in need.
Neil Gaiman presented the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the foundation’s lifetime achievement award, to Ursula K. Le Guin. In her remarks, Le Guin made a plea to her fellow writers not to make “commodities” out of books. “We live in capitalism,” said Le Guin. “Its power seems inescapable.... Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”
In the days following the event, Handler came under attack for comments made after Woodson’s acceptance, which many deemed racist. He issued an apology, and made a financial contribution to the We Need Diverse Books campaign (go to publishersweekly.com for more coverage of this story).