National Book Awards finalists announced

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NEW YORK -- "God Is Not Great" author Christopher Hitchens, "Tree of Smoke" novelist Denis Johnson and former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass are among the finalists for the National Book Awards.

Other nominees announced Wednesday include Sherman Alexie, cited in the young people's literature category for "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"; debut novelists Joshua Ferris and Mischa Berlinski; and scholar Arnold Rampersad, for "Ralph Ellison: A Biography."

Winners in the four competitive categories -- fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature -- will each receive $10,000. Other finalists get $1,000. The results will be announced at a Nov. 14 ceremony in Manhattan hosted by author-humorist Fran Lebowitz and also featuring honorary medals for author Joan Didion and National Public Radio host Terry Gross.

Denis Johnson and fellow fiction nominees Berlinski and Lydia Davis all were published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which has had an enviable run of National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prize winners in recent years, including Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Richard Powers' "The Echo Maker."

Johnson's "Tree of Smoke," published to near-universal acclaim after taking nine years to write, is a Vietnam War novel that has been compared to classics such as Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" and Graham Greene's "The Quiet American."

The other fiction finalist was Jim Shepard's book of short stories, "Like You'd Understand, Anyway." No story collection has won since Andrea Barrett's "Ship Fever" in 1996.

Hitchens, who has been equally provocative and prolific in recent years, had a best-seller this summer with "God Is Not Great," part of a wave of anti-religious works that have come out recently. He is a featured columnist for Slate and Vanity Fair who has angered the right with his attacks against religion and the left with his defense of the Iraq War.

Fellow nonfiction nominees include Edwidge Dandicat for her memoir "Brother, I'm Dying," Woody Holton's "Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution" and Tim Weiner's "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA."

Hass, poet laureate from 1995-97, received his nomination for "Time and Materials" from a committee presided over by the current poet laureate, Charles Simic. Other poetry finalists are Linda Gregerson's "Magnetic North," David Kirby's "The House on Boulevard St.," Stanley Plumly's "Old Heart" and Ellen Bryant Voigt's "Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006."

Scholastic, Inc., known to many as the U.S. publisher of the Harry Potter books, finally received a National Book Award nomination in young people's literature, for Brian Selznick's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."

The other finalists are Kathleen Duey's "Skin Hunger" and two first-time novels: M. Sindy Felin's "Touching Snow" and Sara Zarr's "Story of a Girl."

The book awards, founded in 1950, are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization.
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