McCann, Stiles Win National Book Awards The 60th annual National Book Awards were handed out Wednesday night in New York. Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, a novel about daring, luck and mortality in 1970s New York, won the fiction prize. T.J. Stiles' biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, The First Tycoon, was the nonfiction winner, and Keith Waldrop's Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy won for poetry.

McCann, Stiles Win National Book Awards

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And on the subject of books, we turn now to award winners. Last night, the National Book Awards celebrated the best of American writing. Hanging over the proceedings were the eBook and other challenges to traditional publishing. Still, if those attending National Book Awards have anything to say about it, they'll be celebrating for the next 60 years, as they have for the last 60.

NPR's Lynn Neary was there.

LYNN NEARY: Authors, editors, publicist and publishers all gathered for the book world's most glittery event, dressed in their finest. But despite the festive air, right off the top, the MC, comedian Andy Borowitz, tapped into the deepest fears of the publishing world.

Mr. ANDY BOROWITZ (Comedian): Let's hear it for publishing. We're all on this sinking ship together. Yes.

NEARY: But if traditional publishing is a sinking ship, it won't go down without a fight from the people who write the books. Dave Eggers, author, publisher, screenwriter and founder of a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching kids to write was honored for his service to the American literary community. In accepting the award, Eggers was unabashedly upbeat about the present and future of publishing.

Mr. DAVE EGGERS (Author, Publisher): I feel like this is a golden time for publishing. I am an eternal optimist. I think that this is the most exciting time. It's the most democratic time. There's a pluralism in publishing that I think is unprecedented, and I think that there are so many signs of great things to come.

NEARY: When T.J. Stiles won the nonfiction award for the "The First Tycoon," his biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, he thanked a long list of people, from publicists to production managers, editorial assistants to editors, warehouse managers and bookstore owners, even book reviewers, all of whom are needed to get a book into a reader's hands.

Mr. T.J. STILES (Author, "The First Tycoon"): I suspect that the advent of the eBook is fooling some people into believing that none of these people are necessary anymore, or perhaps do not even exist. If they cease to exist, then eBooks will only be worth the paper they're not printed on. One of the great virtues of a prize like this is that it makes us all stand up and say, really? What about this book? The very arbitrariness of picking just one reminds us that the book is alive and well in our digital age.

NEARY: The fiction award went to Colum McCann for "Let The Great World Spin," a novel which tells the stories of 10 New Yorkers on a summer day in 1974 when a tightrope walker spun above the city on a slender strand between the towers of the World Trade Center. McCann, an American citizen who was born in Ireland, paid eloquent homage to the openness of the literary world in his adopted country.

Mr. COLUM MCCANN (Author): It seems to me that American literature is able to embrace and American publishing is able to embrace the other. I believe in the power of the word. I believe as in - Dave Eggers said, and that you got to take this honor as a challenge, and as fiction writers and people who believe in the word, that we have to enter the anonymous corners of human experience and to make that little corner right.

LEARY: Others honored at last night's ceremony included Gore Vidal, who won the medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. Keith Waldrop won a poetry award. And Phillip Hoose won the award for young people's literature for a book about Claudette Colvin, a black teenager who refused to give up her seat on a bus a year before Rosa Parks. It was my job, Hoose said, to pull her story out from under history's rug, and he did just that. Colvin joined him at the podium to accept the award.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, New York.

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


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