Slavery-Themed Novel 'The Good Lord Bird' Wins National Book Award for Fiction

"Good Lord Bird"

George Packer's "The Unwinding" won the nonfiction prize at the gala New York City ceremony.

The winners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced at a ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. 

The fiction prize went to James McBride for The Good Lord Bird.

The novel follows a young slave in the mid-1800s who joins up with radical abolitionist John Brown, disguises himself as a girl for his own safety and eventually participates in the famous 1859 raid on the army depot at Harpers Ferry, which helped ignite the Civil War.  

McBride is best known in Hollywood as the author of the 2002 novel The Miracle at St. Anna, which was adapted into a 2009 film of the same name by Spike Lee

In a year marked by the emergence of 12 Years a Slave as a leading 2014 Oscar contender, Lincoln's best picture nomination at last year's Academy Awards, the celebrations surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and now McBride's win at the National Book Awards, America's slave past has been at the center of the cultural conversation in an unprecedented way. 

The nonfiction prize went to George Packer for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Packer, a New Yorker writer, surveyed recent American history to explain how the old understanding among Americans -- that everyone would have a job and a purpose in life -- had unraveled. 

The winner of the Young People's Literature award was Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck. 

It's the story of two Japanese-American children who live in the Midwest and have to help their grandparents harvest the wheat crop when their parents have to travel unexpectedly to Japan. Along the way, they must navigate young love, generational clashes and the challenge of harvesting wheat. 

Mary Szybist won in poetry for Incarnadine.

MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski hosted the event, which attracted 700 guests and was carried live on C-SPAN.