The National Book Awards will celebrate two senior literary rebels this fall, giving honorary awards to “Naked and the Dead” author Norman Mailer and to Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
“This year we recognize two giants in the literary world, whose influence will be felt among readers and writers alike for generations to come,” Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation, said Tuesday in a statement.
The National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization, sponsors the National Book Awards, which will be handed out in New York on Nov. 16. The ceremony will be hosted by Garrison Keillor.
Mailer, 82, is to receive the foundation’s medal “for distinguished contribution to American letters,” while Ferlinghetti will be given a new prize, the Literarian Award for “outstanding service to the American literary community.”
Mailer made a sensational debut nearly 60 years ago with “The Naked and the Dead,” an explicit (for the time) and unromantic World War II novel. None of his other fiction received such praise, but he did establish himself as a leading provocateur and premier literary journalist, winning the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for “The Armies of the Night” and a Pulitzer for “The Executioner’s Song.”
Previous winners of the NBA medal include Philip Roth, Arthur Miller and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who will present the award to Mailer.
Ferlinghetti, 86, is best known for his accessible poetry and for his City Lights bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach district, an important avant-garde hangout in the 1950s. Through the City Lights publishing arm, he helped spur the careers of fellow Beat writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs by printing their early works.
He later gained widespread notoriety for publishing Ginsberg’s controversial poem, “Howl,” which prompted an obscenity trial in 1957 that broke new ground for literary freedom of expression.
In the true Beat spirit, most of Ferlinghetti’s own works were written to be read out loud in coffee houses and at campus gatherings. He became so popular that his 1958 compilation, “A Coney Island of the Mind,” sold nearly 700,000 copies in the United States and more than 1 million in other countries, making it the one of the largest selling books by a living American poet.
Jessica Hagedorn, an author, poet and National Book Foundation board member, will introduce Ferlinghetti at the Nov. 16 ceremony.
Finalists for competitive categories will be announced Oct. 12 at William Faulkner’s former home, in Oxford, Miss., with fellow Oxford writer John Grisham reading the list of nominees.