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Originally published November 20, 2013 at 8:34 PM | Page modified November 21, 2013 at 5:40 AM

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National Book Award honors go to McBride, Packer, Kadohata

James McBride’s “The Good Lord Bird” recounts the adventures of a disguised black child caught up in John Brown’s abolitionist crusade.

The Associated Press

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NEW YORK — James McBride’s “The Good Lord Bird,” the comic and terrifying adventures of a disguised black child caught up in John Brown’s abolitionist crusade, was the winner Wednesday night of the National Book Award for fiction.

George Packer’s brutal examination of the modern class wars, “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” won for nonfiction during a dinner ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in downtown Manhattan.

Cynthia Kadohata’s “The Thing About Luck” won for young people’s literature and Mary Szybist’s “Incardine” won for poetry.

McBride, who was considered an underdog in speculation before the awards, revealed during his acceptance speech that in recent years his mother and niece had died and that his marriage had collapsed.

He found consolation in his novel and its protagonist, a boy pretending to be a girl and nicknamed “Onion” by Brown, who recruited him for his ill-fated attempt to free the slaves.

“It was always nice to have somebody whose world I could just fall into and just follow him around,” said McBride, best known for his million-selling memoir, “The Color of Water.”

Packer, a staff writer for The New Yorker, praised some of the workers who allowed him to tell their stories. He said he hoped his book would “illuminate some of what’s gone wrong in America” in recent years” and “some of what’s gone right.”

Kadohata, a winner in previous years of the Newbery award for children’s books, was awarded for her story of two children being cared for by their Japanese grandparents. Szybist, who won for her collection of religious-themed poems, said writing itself was an act of faith and self-discovery.

Winners, chosen by panels of writers, booksellers and others from the publishing community, each received $10,000.

Material from The New York Times is included in this report.

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