Mpls. writers Erdrich, Alexander win National Book Awards

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 2:11 PM
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Louise Erdrich

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For the first time, two Minnesota writers have won National Book Awards. At a glittering event Wednesday night in New York City, Minneapolis writer Louise Erdrich took home her first National Book Award for "The Round House," which won the fiction award, and young-adult author William Alexander won for "Goblin Secrets," his debut fantasy novel.

Erdrich, 58, grew up in Wahpeton, N.D., and now lives in Minneapolis, where she owns Birchbark Books. "The Round House" is her 14th novel and the second in a planned trilogy set on a North Dakota reservation.

"I'm so thrilled," an effusive Erdrich said late Wednesday after finding out that she'd won a prize that had eluded her in the past. "This is my third nomination, and it's perfect. This is a book that talks about the real situation in the real world. I'm over the top and still can't believe it."

Erdrich was keen to use her national honor to embrace supporters as well as family and members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in North Dakota. "This is for everyone in Minnesota and North Dakota," she said. "This is for us."

The first book of the trilogy, "The Plague of Doves," was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

Erdrich has been a finalist for the National Book Award twice before -- in 1999 for a children's book, "The Birchbark House," and in 2001 for a novel, "The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse."

Alexander lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. He was notified of his National Book Award nomination in October, on his 36th birthday.

"It's fantastic and bizarre and amazing," Alexander said Wednesday in a phone call from New York, where the after-party had just begun. "They said my name, and my mind went blank and somehow I made it up to the front and I guess I said a few words.

"I'm still not used to being a novelist at all. I've only been a novelist since March."

His second book, "Ghoulish Song," will be published in March, exploring the same strange world as his first book, but from a different perspective.

Other winners Wednesday were New Yorker staff writer Katherine Boo for "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," her narrative nonfiction account of life in a Mumbai slum, and David Ferry, whose collection, "Bewilderment," won for poetry.

The National Book Award is one of the most significant literary prizes in the United States, dating back to 1950. Winners each received $10,000.

Honorary prizes were given to novelist Elmore Leonard and New York Times publisher and chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.

Only a handful of Minnesota writers have won National Book Awards. J.F. Powers was the first, in 1963, for his novel "Morte d'Urban," and T.J. Stiles was the most recent, winning in 2009 for "The First Tycoon," his biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, which also won the Pulitzer Prize.

Tim O'Brien was the last Minnesota writer to win the prize in fiction, with "Going After Cacciato" in 1979. A handful of other Minnesotans have been finalists, including Frederick Manfred and Charles Baxter.

Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302. Rohan Preston and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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