Patti Smith won the 2010 National Book Award in the nonfiction category for her memoir Just Kids.
"I dreamed of having a book of my own, of writing one that I could put on a shelf," the singer said when accepting the award in New York Wednesday night. "Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don't abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book."
Just Kids recounts Smith's relationship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late Sixties and early Seventies, and includes retellings of her encounters with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, William Burroughs, the Andy Warhol crowd and other luminaries of the era. Smith and Mapplethorpe met in 1967, when both were 20, and lived together for five years, first as lovers and later platonically. During these years, the two spurred each other to new adventures in their respective fields: He as a photographer, she as a poet and later as a songwriter and musician.
Just Kids, Smith's first memoir (she has issued several books of poetry), received rapturous reviews upon its release in January. National Book Award winners get a check for $10,000 and a bronze statue, but more importantly, prestige (and a sales boost). Past winners include William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, Wallace Stevens, Ralph Ellison, W.H. Auden, Joan Didion, Gore Vidal and Philip Roth. The other finalists in the Non-Fiction category this year: Barbara Demick, with Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea; John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq; Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward ; and Megan K. Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War.
Patti Smith Wins National Book Award for Memoir [New York Times]