The actual awards bestowed at the recent 59th annual National Book Awards ceremony in New York seemed to take a back seat to what became a huge love fest for the incoming 44th U.S. president, Barack Obama.
According to the Associated Press, many of Wednesday night’s presenters and award recipients took time out to mention the historic election and to express hope of a transformed nation under an Obama presidency.
“It’s a good time to be alive,” said fiction committee chair Gail Godwin, referring to Obama’s election before revealing that Peter Matthiessen had won for “Shadow Country,” a thorough revision of a trilogy of novels released in the 1990s.
Obama is a friend to book people in so many ways: as a fellow liberal and the first black president-elect; as the author of two million-selling books; as a public thinker who has boosted sales for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Abraham Lincoln biography, “Team of Rivals,” and for a work about the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, Jonathan Alter’s “The Defining Moment.”
Awards host Eric Bogosian called Obama, “in the broadest sense of the word, a reader.” Noting that the president-elect has been openly influenced by “Team of Rivals,” Bogosian commented, “That’s just so cool.”
Honorary award winner Maxine Hong Kingston, who, like Obama, spent many years in Hawaii, praised his way of “putting things right by talking them through.” Fellow honorary winner Barney Rosset, the publisher and First Amendment agitator, called Obama “a dynamic leader,” a miracle.
“For the first time in recent memory I am not thinking of renouncing my American passport,” declared the 86-year-old Rosset.
Nonfiction winner, Annette Gordon-Reed (for “The Hemingses of Monticello”), also mentioned Obama in her acceptance speech, as did poetry winner Mark Doty (“Fire to Fire”), who cited the election and his recent marriage to his male partner: “We are on a path to equality for all Americans and nothing is going to turn us back.”
The awards, founded in 1950, are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers numerous educational and literary programs. Winners each received $10,000.