The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

At last: Maya Angelou to receive National Book Award

  • Print

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The book world is finally honouring Maya Angelou.

The poet and author of "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" will be this year's recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community, the National Book Foundation announced Thursday. It is the first major literary prize for the 85-year-old Angelou, who has been celebrated everywhere from the Grammy Awards to the White House. She has received three Grammys for best spoken word album, a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honour.

Speaking by telephone with The Associated Press on Thursday, Angelou said she couldn't wait to be in the same room as "some very big names in the literary world" and that the Literarian prize made her feel that she was "picking in high cotton."

"Dr. Angelou's body of work transcends the words on the page," the book foundation's executive director, Harold Augenbraum, said in a statement. "She has been on the front lines of history and the fight for social justice and decade after decade remains a symbol of the redemptive power of literature in the contemporary world."

E.L. Doctorow, a familiar name among prize judges, will receive an honorary medal for "contributions to American letters." Doctorow, 82, won the National Book Award in 1986 for "World's Fair" and was a finalist three other times. A native of New York City, he is best known for the million-selling historical novel "Ragtime," which has been adapted into a feature film and a Broadway musical.

"Doctorow is a master of historical fiction who has brought the events of the past to people all over the world in an extraordinary fashion. It is also a special opportunity to give tribute to a native New Yorker in his hometown," Augenbraum said.

"Any serious award such as this of the National Book Foundation has to be gratifying," Doctorow wrote in an email to The Associated Press, adding that he believed literary awards did not only benefit the writers. "There is a communal value — they affirm the continuity of our literary culture."

Previous winners of the National Book Award medal being given to Doctorow include Philip Roth, Arthur Miller and Elmore Leonard. Dave Eggers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and NPR's Terry Gross are among those who have received the Literarian Award.

Angelou, besides being a dancer, actress, filmmaker, singer and activist, has made historic contributions to reading and writing. "Caged Bird" is among the most widely read and widely taught memoirs of the past half-century, memorably documenting her rise from the rural, segregated South to international fame. Her poem "On the Pulse of the Morning," which she recited in 1993 at President Bill Clinton's first inaugural, quickly sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

"What I have always wanted is to be of use," Angelou said. "I will not be abused. I will not be misused — not willingly. But I will be of use. Anybody who is not of use is useless."

But she has never won such top literary prizes as the Pulitzer or PEN/Faulkner and has never even been a nominee for a National Book Award, although she did serve with historians Robert Caro and Robert K. Massie as a judge in 1978 on the committee for best biography/autobiography. (The winner was W. Jackson Bate's biography of the 18th-century English critic Samuel Johnson.)

Angelou said she never worried about literary honours and that she always felt grateful for the winners.

"I know that makes me sound like all goody two-shoes," she said. "But only one name can be chosen for a prize. ... And, here now, I'm getting an award from the National Book Foundation for lifetime achievement of service to the community! It's a blessing. It's incredible."

A long list of nominees in the four competitive categories for the National Book Awards, which the Book Foundation presents, will be announced later this month. Angelou, whose primary residence is in North Carolina, has been in frail health and is expected to only make a brief appearance at the awards dinner and ceremony on Nov. 20.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Glenn January won't blame offensive line for first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JJOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-Postcard  Day-Horror frost and fog created a most beautiful setting at Assiniboine Park Thursday morning in WInnipeg- Enviroent Canada says the fog will lifet this morning and will see a high of -7C-  JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Feb 18, 2010
  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Manitoba support the transport of nuclear waste through the province?

View Results

Ads by Google