Hemings Saga Wins National Book Prize





Annette Gordon-Reed won the National Book Award for nonfiction Wednesday night for "The Hemingses of Monticello," her multigenerational portrait of a family once lost to American history.

Accepting the award, Gordon-Reed spoke of "the journey that black people in this country have been on" since the Hemingses were owned by Thomas Jefferson. Referring to the election of Barack Obama, she added that all of America is "on a great journey now."

Peter Matthiessen won the fiction award for perhaps the most unusual of the evening's nominated books. "Shadow Country" is a heavily reworked, 900-page version of three linked novels Matthiessen published in the 1990s based on the life of the legendary Florida pioneer, murderer and murder victim Edgar J. Watson.

"This book was quite a trial for everybody, including me," Matthiessen said. "It took me 30 years to pull together." He hadn't prepared any remarks, he said, because he worried what he'd do with that "pathetic little speech" in his pocket if he didn't win.

Related Links

  • David Liebers: Jefferson and Hemings ... An Interview with Annette Gordon-Reed

  • NYT news story


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