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Smith achieves dream with National Book Award

Patti Smith is a literary star.

The singer-poet’s memoir about life in New York City in the 1960s, “Just Kids,” won the National Book Award for nonfiction.

“Just Kids” is a bittersweet look back at her deep friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and at a revolutionary time in the country’s history.

At Wednesday’s ceremony, a tearful Smith, 63, recalled working decades ago at a Scribner’s bookstore and stacking up the National Book Award winners, wondering if she would ever receive such a prize.

“So thank you for letting me find out,” said Smith, who now claims an honor previously given to Rachel Carson, Gore Vidal and Joan Didion.

The fiction prize night was a surprise. Jaimy Gordon’s “Lord of Misrule,” a wry, hard-luck racetrack comedy, was chosen over such better known works as Lionel Shriver’s “So Much for That” and Nicole Krauss’ “Great House.”

Gordon, who for 20 years has been releasing books through small publishers, will see her next novel be published by an imprint of Random House Inc.

Kathryn Erskine’s “Mockingbird,” inspired in part by “To Kill a Mockingbird” and by the Virginia Tech shootings, was cited for young people’s literature.

Erskine, whose story features an 11-year-old girl with Asperger’s, praised parents who encourage their children to ask questions and teachers who inspire students to read and to “think for themselves.”

Terrance Hayes’ “Lighthead” won for poetry.

Winners in the competitive categories for the 61st annual awards each received $10,000.

Honorary medals were presented to “Bonfire of the Vanities” novelist Tom Wolfe and to one of the creators of “Sesame Street,” Joan Ganz Cooney.

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