Katherine Boo's account of life in the crowded slums of Mumbai won the prize for nonfiction at the 2012 National Book Awards held Wednesday night in New York City. Louise Erdrich (pictured above) won the fiction prize for "The Round House," published by Harper-Collins.
Boo's book, "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," was praised by presenter Woody Holton as rivaling "the great novelists in developing characters and plotting the various narratives that intersect." She won a Pulitzer Prize while at the Washington Post and is now a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Three other authors won for fiction, poetry and young people's books at the ceremony, held at the restaurant Cipriani, Wall Street.
Also nominated in the non-fiction category were Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: the Crushing of Eastern Europe," Robert A. Caro's "The Passage of Power," Domingo Martinez's "The Boy Kings of Texas," and the late New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid's memoir, "House of Stone."
Erdrich's novel tells the tale of life for women on Native American reservations. The author of 14 novels, Erdrich thanked the audience in her tribe's native Ojibwe language as she accepted the award.
"This is a book about a huge case of injustice ongoing on reservations, and thank you for giving it a wider audience," she said. "It means so much to all of us."
She beat out Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz's "This Is How You Lose Her," Dave Eggers' "A Hologram for the King," Ben Fountain's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," and Kevin Powers' "The Yellow Birds."
David Ferry, the bespectacled octogenarian who won the poetry prize, began to cry as he thanked the designers of his book, "Bewilderment," a work widely praised for its metrical variation and colloquial verse.
And for young people's literature, William Alexander's "Goblin Secrets" won. The story, praised by Publisher's Weekly as a "(sometimes gruesome) fantasy stuffed with interesting ideas" follows Rownie, the youngest in a witch-worker's household of stray children, who escapes and goes looking for his missing brother.
New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and novelist Elmore Leonard were also honored. Sulzberger received the 2012 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
In receiving the 2012 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Leonard recounted many tales of rejection as an aspiring author in the 1950s.