'Redeployment,' 'Age Of Ambition' Win National Book Awards : The Two-Way The veteran-penned short story collection and the nonfiction look at modern China and its citizens joined youth literature winner Brown Girl Dreaming and poetry winner Faithful and Virtuous Night.
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'Redeployment,' 'Age Of Ambition' Win National Book Awards

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'Redeployment,' 'Age Of Ambition' Win National Book Awards

'Redeployment,' 'Age Of Ambition' Win National Book Awards

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The publishing industry held the National Book Awards last night. The emcee Daniel Handler described it as quote, "the Oscars, if nobody gave a darn about the Oscars."

ARUN RATH, HOST:

For the record, Steve, I'm looking at the quote, and the word he used was not darn.

INSKEEP: True, but close enough for radio. There is always suspense at the Book Awards because the winners are not decided until that day. NPR's Petra Mayer reports the night belonged to fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Le Guin, author of such classics as "The Left Hand Of Darkness" and the "Earthsea" novels, got a standing ovation when she came on stage to accept an award for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

URSULA K. LE GUIN: And I rejoice in accepting it for and sharing it with all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long - my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction.

MAYER: Fantasy and sci-fi fans around the world punched the air at that moment. And Le Guin pulled no punches in a fiery speech about art and commerce.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LE GUIN: We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa. And I see a lot of us, the producers, accepting this - letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant.

MAYER: She was referring to the recent dispute between Amazon and the publisher Hachette over e-book pricing. The power of capitalism can seem inescapable, Le Guin said, but resistance and change begin in art. And writers should demand their fair share of the proceeds from their work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LE GUIN: But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MAYER: The crowd went wild. Really, you could've ended the evening there, and almost everyone would've gone home happy, except for the Amazon contingent who notably had no comment on Le Guin's speech or the ribbing they endured throughout the night. But there was dinner to eat and more awards to give out. The eclectic group of nominees ranged from kid lit about great apes to wrenching accounts of war. Kyle Zimmer, founder of the nonprofit organization First Book, won the Literarian Award for her work getting books to underserved children. Jacqueline Woodson won the Young People's Literature prize for "Brown Girl Dreaming," her poetic account of a family and a childhood split between North and South. Poet Louise Gluck won for her collection "Faithful And Virtuous Night." And she articulated a problem that seem common to tonight's winners.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LOUISE GLUCK: It's very difficult to lose. I've lost many times. And it also, it turns out, it is very difficult to win. This is not in my script.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

EVAN OSNOS: I have to tell you I am a man of hunches, and I did not have a hunch.

MAYER: That's Evan Osnos who also claimed to lack a script for his victory speech. He won in the nonfiction category for "Age Of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, And Faith In The New China." Osnos spent time as a reporter in Beijing, and he dedicated his victory to the people that he wrote about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OSNOS: They live in a place where it's very dangerous to be honest and to be vulnerable, and they allowed me to write about them. And I've tried to do them justice.

MAYER: Former Marine Phil Klay also found himself at a loss for words after winning the fiction prize for his story collection, "Redeployment." So he scanned the audience for fellow Marines.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PHIL KLAY: Some backup? Just two of us? We can take them.

MAYER: That line got a laugh. But Klay was making a serious point. Going through war, writing about it, thinking about it, you need backup.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

KLAY: War's too strange to be processed alone.

MAYER: As the ceremony drew to a close, people started thronging the coat check or drifting upstairs to the afterparty. And they were buzzing about Ursula K. Le Guin.

JYNNE MARTIN: The most ferocious speech ever given at the National Book Awards.

MAYER: That's Jynne Martin, associate publisher at Riverhead Books. As for Le Guin herself, she says, she just wants her words to be reprinted and passed on.

LE GUIN: I hope it - I hope it goes outside this room.

MAYER: It already has. Petra Mayer, NPR News, New York.

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