Literature's elite gathered last night at a posh Wall Street venue to honor their own at the National Book Awards, but the glitzy ceremony turned out to be a tribute to the 99%, with gritty tales of immigration, tempest, and recession taking the top honors. "I thought I should point out," said poet Ann Lauterbach, "that we are occupying Wall Street." Jesmyn Ward won the evening's fiction prize for Salvage the Bones, which the AP calls "a bleak but determined novel" about racial strife in Mississippi in Hurricane Katrina's wake.
"I wanted to write about the experiences of the poor and the black and the rural people of the South," said Ward, who fled her home with her family as Katrina descended. Stephen Greenblatt won the nonfiction award for The Swerve, about the rediscovery of the Latin poet Lucretius, while Nikki Finney's account of the African-American experience, Head Off & Split, won for poetry. Thanhhai Lai's Inside Out & Back Again, a portrayal of a Vietnamese family in Alabama, took home the prize for young people's literature. The winners each went home with $10,000. (Read more National Book Awards stories.)