The winners of the 2012 National Book Awards were announced at a ceremony in New York on November 14, going to William Alexander for Goblin Secrets (Young People's Literature), David Ferry for Bewilderment (Poetry), Katherine Boo for Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Nonfiction), and Louise Erdrich for The Round House (Fiction).
Goblin Secrets (S&S/Margaret K. McElderry Books) author William Alexander stated that all other books nominated were equally deserving of the award, saying: "We now have proof that alternate universes exist, but thank you for joining me in this one." Alexander's book follows Rownie, the youngest in a witchworker's household of stray children, and his search for his missing brother.
David Ferry's Bewilderment (University of Chicago Press) won for Poetry. Ferry began by saying, "When I heard that I was a finalist, I called my daughter to go out to lunch with me at Murphy's Pub." His only advantage, he quipped, is how much older he was than his fellow nominees. Ferry, holding back tears, thanked his publishers at University of Chicago Press, his designer, and his photogapher. The judges' citation for Bewilderment praised its "grace and profundity, spiritual wisdom and utilitarianism."
Katherine Boo, Nonfiction winner, said Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity was done as a labor of love for her husband, and made possible because of the support from Random House, her publisher. Boo said that if anything, the award proves that "small stories matter. They matter because they implicate and they complicate larger stories." She closed by remembering journalist Anthony Shadid, who died earlier this year.
Fiction winner Louise Erdrich opened by giving a nod to Native Americans watching the stream. The Round House (Harper) is about an attack on a woman living on a North Dakota reservation and the ensuing fallout. Erdrich said, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for my daughters," and also thanked her husband and her parents. She accepted the award "in recognition of the grace and endurance of Native women," and thanked the National Book Foundation for giving the story a wider audience.
Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Since taking the reins as publisher of the New York Times in 1992, the paper has earned 46 Pulitzer Prizes. The award was presented to Sulzberger by Terry Gross of "Fresh Air," who praised the Times's commitment to book coverage as many other publications dropped their own. Sulzberger accepted the award on behalf of the entire Times staff, saying that books are, and will continue to be, a pillar of the newspaper's brand and coverage. He concluded by thanking the audience, saying: "I'd like to thank you for continuing to tell your story, so we can continue to tell ours."
Elmore Leonard was presented with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, recognizing a 60-year career. Martin Amis presented the award, calling Leonard a "genius who writes rereadable thrillers." Amis said Elmore Leonard's label as a "genre writer" is only a technicality, and that it couldn't hold him. Leonard said he thought his career might be rounding down after 46 books, but then the first chapter of his latest sold to the Atlantic and, shortly thereafter, a letter arrived from the National Book Foundation. It was then, Leonard said, that he realized he couldn't be done. Most of his early work sold to genre magazines for rates like two cents per word. Talking about how his career evolved, Leonard mentioned his first non-western story, The Big Bounce, which was rejected 84 times (though Leonard said his personal rejection record for one project was over 100). The influence of George V. Higgins's The Friends of Eddie Coyle was a major influence for Leonard, who said the book transformed how he controlled his characters. Leonard concluded by saying: "The only thing I've ever wanted to do in my life is have a good time writing stories, and this award tells me I'm still good at it."
The ceremony was hosted by Faith Salie. The panel chairs were Gary D. Schmidt (Young People's Literature), Laura Kasischke (Poetry), Woody Holton (Nonfiction), and Lorrie Moore (Fiction).