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

By Stephan Lee
Updated November 29, 2013 at 05:00 AM EST

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.”