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Maya Angelou to receive honorary book award

September 5, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — The book world is finally honoring Maya Angelou.

The poet and author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” will be this year’s recipient of the Literarian Award, an honorary National Book Award for contributions to the literary community, the National Book Foundation announced Thursday. It is the first major U.S. literary prize for the 85-year-old Angelou, who has been celebrated everywhere from the Grammy Awards to the White House. She has received three Grammys for best spoken word album, a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

“Dr. Angelou’s body of work transcends the words on the page,” the book foundation’s executive director, Harold Augenbraum, said in a statement. “She has been on the front lines of history and the fight for social justice and decade after decade remains a symbol of the redemptive power of literature in the contemporary world.”

Speaking by telephone with The Associated Press on Thursday, Angelou said she couldn’t wait to be in the same room as “some very big names in the literary world.”

Angelou, besides being a dancer, actress, filmmaker, singer and activist, has made historic contributions to reading and writing. “Caged Bird” is among the most widely read and widely taught memoirs of the past half-century, memorably documenting her rise from the rural, segregated South to international fame.

Her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning,” which she recited in 1993 at President Bill Clinton’s first inaugural, quickly sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

“What I have always wanted is to be of use,” Angelou said Thursday. “I will not be abused. I will not be misused — not willingly. But I will be of use. Anybody who is not of use is useless.”

Angelou has been in frail health and is expected to only make a brief appearance at the awards dinner and ceremony in November.

A long list of nominees in the four competitive categories for the National Book Awards, which the Book Foundation presents, will be announced later this month.

E.L. Doctorow will receive an honorary medal for “contributions to American letters.” Doctorow, 82, won the National Book Award in 1986 for “World’s Fair” and was a finalist three other times. He is best known for the million-selling historical novel “Ragtime.”

Previous winners of the National Book Award medal being given to Doctorow include Philip Roth, Arthur Miller and Elmore Leonard. Dave Eggers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and National Public Radio’s Terry Gross are among those who have received the Literarian Award.

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