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Award-Winning Books

Maybe you're looking for a classic to quote at cocktail parties. Or maybe you're just tired of reading "Barney Goes to the Farm" at bedtime. Whatever your motivation, award-winning books can provide a great starting point for reading lists. In this feature, you'll discover books that have won some of the most prestigious awards in categories from fiction to horror.

The National Book Awards are awarded by the Association of American Publishers. This list of NBA winners might not contain slam dunking, jump-shooting all-stars, but the members of this club are exceptional in their own right. Winners in 2005 included the following writers:

  • Fiction: William T. Vollmann for Europe Central;
  • Nonfiction: Joan Didion for The Year of Magical Thinking;
  • Poetry: William S. Merwin for Migration.

    Previous winners include Gore Vidal for United States: Essays 1952-1992, Alice Walker for The Color Purple, Henry Kissinger for White House Years, and Allen Ginsburg for The Fall of America: Poems of these States 1965-1971.

    Between 1964 and 1983, the Association gave out awards in a dizzying number of categories. Since 1984, it has settled into a comfortable pattern of giving annual awards in the categories of Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature.





    The Nobel Prize for literature is possibly the most prestigious award that can be bestowed upon an author. The prize was first awarded in 1901 to Sully Prudhomme of France. The winner is selected by The Swedish Academy, as mandated by Alfred Nobel in his will. The 2005 Nobel Laureate is Harold Pinter of England. Other famous recipients include Toni Morrison (U.S.), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia), Samuel Beckett (Ireland), Jean-Paul Sartre (France), Albert Camus (France), Ernest Hemmingway (U.S.) and Rudyard Kipling (Great Britain).

    If you'd like a book with a title that is sure to look good on the bookshelf, check out the current Pulitzer Prize winner for History, David M. Oshinsky's Polio: An American Story. The Pulitzer Prize is given out in five other categories as well: Biography, Drama, Nonfiction, Fiction and Poetry. Memorable winners in the Fiction category include Harper Lee for To Kill a Mockingbird; Ernest Hemmingway for The Old Man and the Sea; John Steinbeck for The Grapes of Wrath; and Willa Cather for One of Ours. Biographies written by John F. Kennedy (Profiles in Courage), D. Lewis (of W.E.B. DuBois), and Henry F. Pringle (of Theodore Roosevelt) received accolades. Drama recipients include David Mamet for Glengarry Glen Ross and Tennessee Williams for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. The current holder of the Nonfiction award is Caroline Elkins for Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya. Previous winners include Tracey Kidder for Soul of a New Machine and Carl Sagan for The Dragons of Eden.

    Find some new bed time reading for your child with the myriad awards for writing, illustrating and general contribution to this genre. For recommended illustrated books, look to Caldecott Winners. The American Library Association gives out the Caldecott Award to the best in illustrated children's books. They award one Medal (the top prize) and a few honorable mentions each year. The 2006 winner is The Hello, Goodbye Window, illustrated by Chris Raschka and written by Norton Juster. Other recipients have included Chris Van Allsburg's Jumanji (1982), and Verna Aardema's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (1976).

    The Newbery Medal is given out in the same medalist/honorable mention format as the Caldecott, but concentrates on literature without illustrations for a slightly older audience. The current winner is Lynne Rae Perkins's Criss Cross. Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall, Lloyd Alexander's The High King, Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie have all won the award in the past.

    The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award is for kids and by kids. A winner is selected each year by elementary school students in Vermont. The award is designed to encourage children to become enthusiastic and analytical readers. Previous winners include The Boggart by Susan Cooper; Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume; and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, named for the author of Little House on the Prairie fame, is given to an author who has made a lasting contribution to children's literature. Laurence Yep won the 2005 award. Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) and E.B. White are among past winners.

    Various book awards with a cultural slant can be found on the Internet. The Coretta Scott King Award is presented to black authors who inspire and educate in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and Coretta Scott King. The most recent recipient of the award is Toni Morrison for Remember: The Journey to School Integration. Angela Johnson's Toning the Sweep, Mildred D. Taylor's The Friendship, and Pearl Bailey's Duey's Tale have won the award in the past. A relatively young award is the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, which was first given out in 1996. The $30,000 prize is awarded for the book that "contributes to greater understanding among nations and peoples of the Pacific Rim." The 2006 recipients were Luis Alberto Urrea for The Hummingbird's Daughter and Piers Vitebsky for The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia Japan: A Reinterpretation by Patrick Smith, won the award in 1997. Authors who have lived in Great Britain or Ireland for at least three years are eligible for the Costa Book Award. Salman Rushdie won the award for The Moor's Last Sigh in 1995 and The Satanic Verses in 1988. William Trevor, author of The Children of Dynmouth, won the award in 1975.

    And then there are awards that don't fit into the traditional, children's, or cultural categories. The Robert F. Kennedy Book Award goes to an author whose work "faithfully reflects Robert F. Kennedy's dreams and purposes-- his concern for the poor and the powerless, his struggle for honest and even-handed justice, and his faith that a free democracy can act to remedy disparities of power and opportunity." The prize is $2,500 and a bust of RFK. Previous winners include John Kenneth Galbraith, Al Gore's Earth in Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit, and Roger Rosenblatt's Children of War.

    The Lambda Literacy Award recognizes excellence in gay and lesbian literature. The award is given out in various categories, including fiction, poetry, biography, and science fiction. Past recipients include Michael Cunningham for Flesh and Blood, Mary Wings for Divine Victim, and Nisa Donnely for The Bar Stories. The Margaret A. Edwards Award is an accolade given to authors whose work has helped adolescents grow and to understand society. The 2006 winner was Jacqueline Woodson. Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton have won the award in the past.

    The list of book awards doesn't stop there! The Bram Stoker Awards are given out by members of the Horror Writers association and the Hugo Awards are chosen by the World Science Fiction Convention. Poetry Awards abound, from The Walt Whitman Award to the Bollingen Prize, to the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.

    Whatever kind of book you're looking for, chances are an award for excellence exists in that genre. It's just a matter of choosing which award-winning book you want to read first. Happy reading!




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