For the first time ever, 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 fiction for “The Round House,” and young-adult author William Alexander won for “Goblin Secrets,” his debut 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.
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.
"I'm still not used to being a novelist at all," he said by phone Wednesday night, sounding happy and surprised. "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.
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 a National Book Award, which began in 1950. 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.