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Winners Wrote About Vietnam And Atom Bomb

November 10, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ The two winners of the 1987 National Book Awards say they were each inspired to write their books by anger at and fear of war.

Larry Heinemann, 43, of Chicago said his anger at former government officials burned inside him for 20 years before he captured some of the thoughts and turmoil of the Vietnam era in ″Paco’s Story,″ winner of the fiction novel prize.

″I’m very bitter,″ he said after Monday night’s awards ceremony.

Richard Rhodes, 50, of Kansas City, Kan., won the non-fiction prize for ″The Making of the Atomic Bomb,″ which he said was an attempt to answer for himself how ″a species as clever and long-lived as ours could be bent on destroying ourselves.″

The men received their awards Monday from the National Book Awards Inc., a non-profit charitable institution formed to generate interest in reading and writing in America.

Each year, it gives $10,000 and a Louise Nevelson sculpture to two authors, one for a novel and the other for non-fiction.

Heinemann’s book describes the adventures of Paco Sullivan, who returns from Vietnam as the lone survivor of a massacre to a life of washing dishes in a short-order restaurant.

In his speech, Heinemann warned that the mistakes of Vietnam could be repeated in Central America, and he criticized those who say the United States could have won the war in Southeast Asia.

″It’s like saying we didn’t fill our heart with enough hate,″ he said. ″I warn you, if we allow the same thing to happen in Central America, it will be the shame of our lives.″

Rhodes said he was filled with hope as he wrote his book detailing the political, scientific and social events contributing to the development of nuclear weapons.

″I thought I might find an explanation, some real and authentic hope,″ he said.

He found that world wars are ″almost certainly a thing of the past.″

″Nuclear weapons had an effect on the Vietnam War, (with) a powerful country voluntarily losing the war rather than nuking a Third World country,″ Rhodes said. ″The hope is that nuclear weapons have already forced a kind of peace on the world. The question is if nations will continue to learn.″

Other nominees in this year’s fiction category were Alice McDermott for ″That Night″; Toni Morrison for ″Beloved″; Howard Norman for ″The Northern Lights″; and Philip Roth for ″The Counterlife.″

The nominees for non-fiction were David Herbert Donald for ″Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe″; James Gleick for ″Chaos: Making a New Science″; Claudia Koonz for ″Mothers in the Fatherland″; and Robert A.M. Stern, Gregory Gilmartin and Thomas Mellins for ″New York: Architecture and Urbanism Between the Two World Wars.″

Each nominee receives $1,000.

The National Book Awards began giving the awards in 1950, first to three people and eventually to 26 writers by 1980.

The judges decided in 1986 to give only two awards, ″to make each more important,″ the organization said.

Previous winners include John Updike, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, William Faulkner and Henry Kissinger.

The books entered in the contest had to have been written by U.S. citizens and published in the United States between Nov. 1, 1986, and Oct. 31, 1987.

In 1987, there were 310 titles entered for the award by publishers. The winners were chosen by writers and critics picked for their literary qualifications and expertise in a particular field.

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