The 2011 National Book Award ceremony was held in New York late Wednesday and hosted by actor, musician and author John Lithgow. The Academy Awards of American publishing features the finest writers, editors and publishers in the United States.

Awards are given to one author out of five finalists in each category: Fiction, Non-fiction, Young People's Literature and Poetry. Each finalist receives a $1,000 prize and medal. The winners each receive $10,000. The awards help feature well-known authors and also may lead to the break-out of some newer or more obscure authors.

Poet John Ashberry was honored at the black-tie dinner and received the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Mitchell Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International, was also honored, receiving the Foundation's Literarian Award for Outstanding Contribution to the American Literary Community.

The winner for the fiction award was Jesmyn Ward, author of Salvage the Bones. Ward's novel tells the story of a family living in a coastal town of Mississippi struggling to prepare for the arrival of a hurricane each while dealing with their own difficulties. The Washington Post review claims, Masterful... 'Salvage the Bones' has the aura of a classic about it.   

Fiction finalists included: Edith Pearlman, author of Binocular Vision, Andrew Krivak, author of The Sojourn, Tea Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife and Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic.

The winner for the non-fiction award was Stephen Grenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Grenblatt tells the story of how one manuscript, the Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, changed the course of human thought and has brought us to the world we know today.

Non-fiction finalists included: Deborah Baker, author of The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, Mary Gabriel, author of Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution, Manning Marable, author of Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention and Lauren Redniss, author of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout.

The winner for the poetry award was Nikky Finney, author of Head Off & Split. Finney's work contains a collection of poems that reflect the sensitive and intense dialogue between figures and events in African American life.

Poetry finalists included: Yusef Komunyakaa, author of The Chameleon Couch, Carl Phillips, author of Double Shadow, Adrienne Rich, author of Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010 and Bruce Smith, author of Devotions.

The winner of the young people's literature award was Thanhha Lai, author of Inside Out & Back Again. Lai's novel, written for children ages 8 and up, tells the story of Ha, a young girl in Saigon, who is forced to flee her home during the Vietnam War.

Young people's literature finalists included: Franny Billingsley, author of Chime, Debby Dahl Edwardson, author of My Name Is Not Easy, Albert Marrin, author of Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy and Gary D. Schmidt, author of Okay for Now.