November 18, 2010 / 4:30 AM / 9 years ago

Patti Smith wins book award; Tom Wolfe honored

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rocker Patti Smith was among the major winners of the U.S. National Book Awards on Wednesday for her memoir “Just Kids,” choking up with tears before urging book publishers not to let technology kill traditional books.

Rock poetess Patti Smith performs at the Roskilde Festival, 30 km (18 miles) west of Copenhagen July 1, 2010. REUTERS/Jonas Vandall Ortvig/Scanpix

Tom Wolfe, whose list of best-sellers includes “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Jaimy Gordon beat authors such as Peter Carey and Nicole Krauss to won the fiction award for “Lord of Misrule,” published by McPherson & Co. It is the story of a horseman’s scheme to rescue his failing stable.

The night featured a sprinkling of jokes about the state of the book publishing industry, which is going through a tumultuous period as it deals with the nascent market for electronic books.

Smith, a 63-year-old American singer-songwriter and poet, turned emotional as she accepted the nonfiction award for “Just Kids,” which chronicles her struggles in her youth and relationship with American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

“There is nothing more beautiful than the book, the paper, the font, the cloth,” said Smith, whose book was published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. “Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please never abandon the book.”

Wolfe, 79, one of the early proponents of the free-wheeling “new journalism” in the 1960s, recounted his early reporting assignments and offered advice for future novelists: “First, leave the building and then sit down and write.”

The National Book Award for Poetry was awarded to Terrance Hayes for his fourth collection, “Lighthead,” published by Penguin Books.

Kathryn Erskine won the Young People’s Literature award for “Mockingbird,” published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

The list for one of America’s top annual book honors included 13 women among the 20 finalists, which the National Book Foundation said was the largest number of women ever nominated. There were five finalists in each of the four categories and each winner receives $10,000.

Past National Book Award winners include John Updike, Philip Roth and Ralph Ellison.

The Association of American Publishers said last week that U.S. book sales to the end of September decreased by 12.1 percent on the prior year to $1.1 billion but were up by 3.8 percent for the year to date. E-book sales had experienced a 158.1 increase since a year ago to $39.9 million.

Editing by Bill Trott

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