Musician Patti Smith Wins Book Award for Mapplethorpe Memoir

The cover jacket of "Just Kids." The book is by American singer-songwriter and "godmother of punk" Patti Smith, pictured with late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Source: Harper Collins via Bloomberg

Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Patti Smith, best known as a rock musician, won the National Book Award for nonfiction last night for “Just Kids,” a memoir of her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe published by Ecco Press.

“When I was a clerk at Scribner’s bookstore, I always dreamed of writing a book of my own,” she said. “When I had to unpack the winners of the National Book Awards and put them on the shelf, I used to wonder what it would feel like to win one.

“Thank you very much for letting me find out,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

The black-tie ceremony, at Manhattan’s Cipriani on Wall Street, was a benefit for the National Book Foundation, which promotes writing and literacy. The host was comedian and author Andy Borowitz, who joked that the publishing industry was a sinking ship, but hadn’t sunk yet.

“I’d like to focus my remarks on all the good news about publishing, so I’ll be brief,” he said.

The fiction award went to Jaimy Gordon, author of “Lord of Misrule,” a novel set in the world of horse racing. Gordon’s book is published by McPherson & Co., a small press based in Kingston, New York, that produces only four or five books a year. Bruce R. McPherson, the publisher and editor, met Gordon when they were both students at Brown University and published her first novel in 1974.

“Lord of Misrule” arrived in bookstores on Nov. 15. Last week, Gordon sold the paperback rights to Vintage, and sold her next novel to Pantheon.

Poetry, Young People

The poetry prize went to Terrance Hayes for “Lighthead” (Penguin). The prize for Young People’s Literature was given to Kathryn Erskine for “Mockingbird” (Philomel).

Tom Wolfe, author of “The Right Stuff” and “Bonfire of the Vanities,” received an award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Presenting the prize, Tina Brown said, “We read him as we watch fireworks, with wonder and joy.”

“He showed us our image in a funhouse mirror and it turned out to be the truest vision of ourselves,” Brown said.

Wolfe, in his customary off-white suit, said he’s working on a new novel, “Back to Blood,” which is about “actual bloodlines,” not “wet blood.”

Joan Ganz Cooney, a creator of “Sesame Street,” received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.

     The other finalists were:
     Peter Carey, “Parrot and Olivier in America” (Knopf)
     Nicole Krauss, “Great House” (Norton)
     Lionel Shriver, “So Much for That” (Harper)
     Karen Tei Yamashita, “I Hotel” (Coffee House)

     Barbara Demick, “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North
Korea” (Spiegel & Grau)
     John W. Dower, “Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima,
9-11, Iraq” (Norton)
     Justin Spring, “Secret Historian: The Life and Times of
Samuel Steward” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
     Megan K. Stack, “Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An
Education in War (Doubleday)

     Kathleen Graber, “The Eternal City” (Princeton)
     James Richardson, “By the Numbers” (Copper Canyon)
     C.D. Wright, “One With Others” (Copper Canyon)
     Monica Youn, “Ignatz” (Four Way)

     Young People’s Literature:
     Paolo Bacigalupi, “Ship Breaker” (Little, Brown)
     Laura McNeal, “Dark Water” (Knopf)
     Walter Dean Myers, “Lockdown” (Amistad)
     Rita Williams-Garcia, “One Crazy Summer” (Amistad)

To contact the writer of this review: Laurie Muchnick in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at