China novel wins award

Books: Complex, contemporary fiction by a former soldier captures national fiction award.


NEW YORK -- "Waiting," by Ha Jin, a novel set in contemporary China about a man struggling with the conflicting claims of two women, won the National Book Award for fiction last night.

The winner for nonfiction was "Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II" (W. W. Norton & Company/The New Press) by John W. Dower, about the transformation of Japan into a democracy under American occupation. The poetry prize went to the dramatic monologues about urban life in "Vice: New and Selected Poems" (W. W. Norton & Company) by Ai.

"When Zachary Beaver Came to Town," (Henry Holt and Co.) by Kimberly Willis Holt, a coming-of-age story about a 13-year-old boy who is obese, won the award for young people's literature.

Ha Jin, the author of "Waiting," which is published by Pantheon Books, served for six years in the People's Liberation Army of his native China and came to the United States in 1985. He is a professor of English at Emory University in Atlanta.

The ceremony, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the National Book Foundation, the sponsor of the awards, was held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Manhattan. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey, a powerful figure in the book world because of Oprah's Book Club, received a 50th Anniversary Medal from the foundation.

"More than movie stars and rock stars and famous politicians and world leaders," she said, "I love authors. I love authors because in the beginning was the word.

"For all of you here who are liberated by the word," she said, "God bless you."

Winfrey founded her book club in 1996; since then, a book chosen for the club has been almost a guarantee best seller.

Winfrey recalled that when she called Wally Lamb, author of "She's Come Undone," whose novel was one of her selections, he was doing his laundry.

It was a revelation, Ms. Winfrey said: "Authors do laundry."

Comedian Steve Martin, who served as master of ceremonies at the dinner, said that at first when he was asked to be the host of the event, he thought it was for the National Basketball Association. But, Martin said, "I really wanted to come here tonight because I thought it would be a good way to troll for intellectuals.

"Please keep your acceptance speeches short, especially if you don't win," Martin told the audience of more than 1,000 people, including 35 past winners and 17 writers who attended the first National Book Award ceremony in 1950 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Notably missing from this year's nominations were two of the industry's biggest books this year.

"Dutch," a semifictional biography of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris, and "'Tis," the sequel to Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir, "Angela's Ashes" both failed to get nominations.

Despite mergers in the publishing industry, the foundation said it received nominations from a record number of imprints. Eight hundred and eighty-one titles were submitted, somewhat fewer than last year.

Winners in each category receive a $10,000 cash award.

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