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Didion vs. ‘Them’

Gray's 'Memoir' takes autobiography prize at NBCC

In the smaller of two kudofests taking place this weekend, Joan Didion failed in her bid to make this a magical year at the book prizes, while another icon, E.L. Doctorow, found vindication at them.

At the National Book Critics Circle Awards, Didion’s tragic memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking” lost out to Francine du Plessix Gray’s “Them: A Memoir of Parents” in the autobiography category.

Didion’s book covers the death of her daughter as well as her husband, her screenwriting collaborator John Gregory Dunne. Scribe had earlier bested competish in non-fiction category at country’s other big book kudos, the National Book Awards, in November.

But Doctorow avenged his loss at that event with a win in the fiction category for his civil war tale “The March.” On accepting the prize, scribe, who wrote tomes on which “Ragtime” and “Billy Bathgate” were based, quipped, “I’ve wondered for many years if literary awards were good for literature, but I find when I’m offered an award I tend to accept it.”

Autobio presenter Celia McGee began by describing the winner as “a courageous journalist” and “a member of new York’s cultural elite”–descriptions that also apply to Didion–leaving some in the hall surprised when Didion’s name wasn’t called.

Like the Oscars this year, NBCC’s had a rarefied feel: taking home nonfiction prize was the gritty and little-known oral history Voices from Chernobyl published by the indie Dalkey Archive Press, while a similar subject was covered in biography winner American Prometheus, a portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer published by Knopf.

Kudos were handed out at Gotham’s The New School Friday night.