Three women writers won National Book Awards on the evening of November, 16, 2011. In Fiction, Jesmyn Ward won for Salvage the Bones, while Nikki Finney won the Poetry category with her book, Head Off & Split. In Young Adult Literature, Thanhha Lai won for Inside Out & Back Again. The first annual National Book Awards were celebrated on March 16, 1950, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The awards are given in four categories—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young adult literature. This year there there were 1,223 books submitted for the National Book Awards, and out of that, 315 were submitted for the fiction category and 189 in the poetry category.
Ward’s novel Salvage the Bones is about a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi and was honored for her second book published by Bloomsbury USA. Her novel tells the story of a teenage girl, Esch, and her family during the ten days preceding Hurricane Katrina and during the immediate aftermath of the devastating storm. In her blog Ward says, “This is the story of a girl growing up in a world of men, a tale about her brother and his pit bull, a novel about a family in the maw of Hurricane Katrina. This is about tragedy: this is about hope.”
Nikki Finney’s Head Off & Split (Triquarterly, 2011) captures an intense dialogue about events in African-American history. Finney said that she had been working on the book for thirty years and wanted to go beyond the depictions of the Civil Rights Movement in the traditional media.
Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again (HarperCollins, 2011) is a story about a Vietnamese girl who is forced to flee Saigon and begin a new life in Alabama after the Vietnam War.
And in the category of nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt won for The Swerve, which is an innovative work of history that gives a dramatic account of the Renaissance era rediscovery of the Roman poet Lucretius’ manuscript “On the Nature of Things”.