CIA history, agent's tale win National Book Awards

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NEW YORK, Nov 15 (Reuters) A history of the US Central Intelligence Agency and a fictional tale of a CIA agent during the Vietnam War were among the winners at America's 58th annual National Book Awards.

New York Times reporter Tim Weiner won the nonfiction award for ''Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA,'' while Denis Johnson won the fiction award for ''Tree of Smoke'' yesterday.

''(This award) is testament only to the power of the record revealed,'' said Weiner, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his reporting on secret national security programs. ''And maybe to the fact our democracy, despite everything, is still open enough to see a glimpse of what went wrong.'' The National Book Foundation said it was the first time in several years the nonfiction category did not include books specifically about 9/11, Islam, and the West Asia.

Johnson's wife, Cindy, accepted his award on his behalf, telling the audience her husband was in Iraq on a reporting assignment. His novel tells the story of a CIA agent operating in Vietnam during the war and the disasters that befall him.

Sherman Alexie won the award for young people's literature with his novel ''The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,'' his first young adult, or Y A, book. ''Wow, I should have been writing YA all along,'' said Alexie, who has published 18 other books, mainly adult novels and poetry.

His novel tells the coming-of-age tale of an unlucky American Indian boy as he attempts to rise above the life he seems destined to live. It is based on Alexie's own experiences of growing up on an Indian reservation.

The National Book Award for poetry went to Robert Hass for ''Time and Materials.'' Hass was the U.S poet laureate from 1995 to 1997.

There were five finalists in each category and each winner gets 10,000 dollars. To be eligible for the awards, the books had to be published between December 1, 2006, and November 30, 2007, and written by a US citizen.

Past winners include such critically acclaimed names as John Updike, Philip Roth and Ralph Ellison.

Novelist and essayist Joan Didion, who won a National Book Award in 2005 for her memoir ''The Year of Magical Thinking,'' was awarded the 2007 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and paid tribute to author Norman Mailer.

Mailer, a pugnacious two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was a dominating presence on the US literary scene for more than 50 years, died on Saturday of kidney failure at the age of 84.

''The last time I was in this room, Norman Mailer was getting this award (in 2005),'' Didion said. ''That was someone who really, truly knew what writing was for.'' The 2007 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community was awarded to Terry Gross, host and executive producer of National Public Radio's ''Fresh Air.'' REUTERS JT BD1035

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