*Author James McBride’s novel The Good Lord Bird won the fiction prize at the 64th annual National Book Awards, announced at a ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City.
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.
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.
MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski hosted the event, which attracted 700 guests and was carried live on C-SPAN.
*Days after Spike Lee railed against Hollywood studio executives at the Sundance Film Festival, his co-producer and co-writer of “Red Hook Summer” has accused those same executives of attempting to keep black filmmakers under their thumb.
“It’s the same old story. Nothing in this world happens unless white folks says it happens,” James McBride wrote on the Lee website, 40acres.com. “And therein lies the problem of being a professional black storyteller — writer, musician, filmmaker.
Being black is like serving as Hoke, the driver in Driving Miss Daisy, except it’s a kind of TV series [that] lasts the rest of your life. You get to drive the well-meaning boss to and fro, you love that boss, your lives are stitched together, but only when the boss decides your story intersects with his or her life is your story valid. Because you’re a kind of cultural maid.”
Speaking of maids, McBride pointed out that Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer each received Oscar nominations this week for playing maids in “The Help.”
“This is 73 years after the first African American to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, garnered the award for the same role – as a maid, and a slave maid at that, winning the Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category on Feb. 29, 1940. And here we are, in the year of our Lord, Jan 25, 2012. Maybe I’m getting old, but the irony of this is too much.”
Actress Rashida Jones arrives at the Trevor Project's 2011 Trevor Live! at The Hollywood Palladium on December 4, 2011 in Los Angeles
*Director Spike Lee, actress Rashida Jones and rapper/actor Ice T all have works in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, organizers announced Monday.
Lee has directed “Red Hook Summer” from a screenplay he wrote with James McBride about a young Atlanta boy who spends his summer in Brooklyn with the grandfather he’s never met.
Festival director John Cooper and director of programming Trevor Groth note that the film has the flavor of Lee’s early work and “may push some buttons,” Groth says. Lee last had the musical adaptation “Passing Strange” in the festival in 2009.
(L-R) "Red Hook Summer" stars Toni Lysaith, Clarke Peters and Jules Brown
Jones, star of NBC’s “Parks & Recreation,” has co-written the film “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” which also stars Jones and “Saturday Night Live’s” Andy Samberg as high school sweethearts trying to remain friends after their divorce.
Ice-T will screen his exploration of the history of hip-hop, “Something From Nothing: The Art Of Rap,” co-directed by Andy Baybutt.
The 28th annual festival runs January 19-29 with screenings and events in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. The complete program will feature 112 feature-length films from 31 countries, including 90 world premieres.