Yesterday, November 20, the (US) National Book Awards announced their 2013 winners. And, yes, if you wanted to, you could have watched the black tie ceremony live on CPAN-2 or as a live-stream directly from the National Book Awards website. But, if you didn’t get the chance, here’s your quick recap.

1) Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community – Maya Angelou

— Toni Morrison presented this award to her long-time friend. Morrison said that Angelou’s autobiography, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings‘ “opened the door to our inside, our interior, minus the white gaze or sanction.”

— Angelou, during her acceptance speech, burst into melodic song: “When it looks like the sun will not shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.” Then, she smiled that radiant smile and said to the audience: “You are rainbows in my clouds.”

— On her own writing: “Easy reading is damn hard writing. I am trying to tell the truth, not everything I know, but the truth.”

2) Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American LettersE L Doctorow

— His speech focused on the internet and how it has been changing both the worlds of readers and writers. He said that it will give us “infinite manifestations of human genius and human inadequacy.”

— Referencing the PEN Study about authors and worries about NSA surveillance: “I don’t have to remind us that everyone in this room is in the free speech business.”

— On books:  “It is only when a book is read that it is completed. A book is written in silence and read in silence.”

— Read a lovely recent tribute to him, particularly, his book ‘Ragtime‘, in The Millions.

3) Fiction – James McBride for ‘The Good Lord Bird

— A story about a young slave, Henry Shackleford (nicknamed Little Onion), who joins the abolitionist, John Brown, in his anti-slavery mission.

— The judges praised him for “a voice as comic and original as any we have heard since Mark Twain.”

— McBride told a touching personal story about how, during the writing of the book, he lost his mother and niece and his marriage fell apart. The writing kept him going.

— And here’s a lovely, hot-off-the-presses-er-pixels interview in Vanity Fair today

4) Non-fiction – George Packer for ‘The Unwinding

— The book is a series of portraits and profiles that shows a changing America across large cities and small towns – both for the better and for the worse.

— The judges said it won because  of how the author “casts a discerning eye on banks and Wall Street while tracing the painful dissolution of much of our economic infrastructure.”

5) Poetry – Mary Szybist for her collection, ‘Incarnadine

— The poems here vary vastly in themes — from religion and faith to love and inspiration — but, always, about the connection between mind, body and spirit.

— In her acceptance speech, while close to tears, Szybist mentioned how she sometimes loses her taste for poetry during dark moments, but she always finds her way back to the miracle of rediscovering how much poetry can do.

6) Young Adult Literature – Cynthia Kadohata for ‘The Thing About Luck

— Two siblings, Summer and Jaz, encounter a year of difficulties that helps them to learn more about themselves, their families and their fragile lives and worlds – spanning contemporary Midwestern US and Japan.

— The judges said that  Kadohata had “created a compassionate, gentle, and humorous book, exploring generational and cultural differences, the fragility of life, and the weighty yet cherished ties of family.”

— At the start of her acceptance speech, she quipped about how she didn’t prepare a speech as she thought that would be bad luck. She went on to describe writing as an act of faith, self-discovery, and “what some describe as soul-making”.

For a complete roundup of the shortlist finalists and their works:

National Book Organization’s interviews with all the finalists

National Book Organization’s video of readings by all the finalists

— The New Yorker’s slide show of finalists’ appearances in their magazine

— NPR’s pre-awards summary

GalleyCat’s free samples of the works of all the finalists

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