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National Book Awards Honoree Relishes Surprise Win

Author James McBride wins for his slavery novel ”The Good Lord Bird”

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On the night he won the National Book Award for fiction at a Nov. 20 gala in New York, James McBride didn’t think his slavery novel The Good Lord Bird had a shot. Best known for his memoir, The Color of Water, McBride was up against literary heavyweights Jhumpa Lahiri, Thomas Pynchon, and George Saunders, and his own pick to win: Rachel Kushner for The Flamethrowers. “It’s one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me,” he says, adding with a laugh, “but I hope I never have to go through that again.” The good news: McBride’s publisher, Riverhead, plans to print 45,000 more copies of The Good Lord Bird. The bad news: The author was still too shy to approach Toni Morrison at the gala. “I didn’t want to interrupt her dessert.”