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2009 National Book Award winners

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The award for poetry went to Brown University professor Keith Waldrop for his book of recent verse, "Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy." For Waldrop, the award was a long time coming – he was previously nominated for a National Book Award 40 years ago, but did not win at that time. Even last night Waldrop took the casual approach. His wife – Rosemarie Waldrop, with whom he co-edits Burning Deck Press – accompanied him from Providence to New York but did not attend the award ceremony, opting instead for the new Philip Glass opera at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. "I almost went to the opera myself," Waldrop confessed.

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In the category of children's books the award went to Phillip Hoose for "Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice," a biography of "the first Rosa Parks," a Montgomery, Ala., teenager who refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a segregated bus nine months before Rosa Parks became famous for the same act. Colvin – who had been almost forgotten by history before Hoose's book revived awareness of her story – appeared on stage with Hoose as he claimed the award, waving and smiling to the crowd.

Earlier in the evening, Joanne Woodward had been on hand to present a the 2009 medal for distinguished contribution to Gore Vidal.

And novelist Samantha Hunt ("The Invention of Everything Else") presented the 2009 Literarian award for outstanding service to the American literary community to McSweeney's co-founder and author ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius") Dave Eggers.

Eggers, who teaches writing to high school students, struck perhaps the most unabashedly optimistic note of the evening, particularly when he repeated some of his students' enthusiastic comments on the subject of reading (including their total disdain for electronic readers.)

Despite what one might hear otherwise, insisted Eggers, today is actually "a golden time for publishing," particularly as it represents a moment of "unprecedented pluralism."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/MarjorieKehe.

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