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Hitchens Among Book Award Finalists

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HILLEL ITALIE | October 10, 2007 02:10 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — Should Christopher Hitchens win a National Book Award, you can be sure he won't thank any higher powers.

The author, columnist and commentator was nominated for "God Is Not Great," a polemic with a self-evident theme. Hitchens' book received mixed reviews, but became a best seller over the spring and summer and continued a wave of anti-religious works, including Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell."

Other nominees announced Wednesday include Sherman Alexie, cited in the young people's literature category for "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian"; debut novelists Joshua Ferris and Mischa Berlinski; and scholar Arnold Rampersad, for "Ralph Ellison: A Biography."

Among those not nominated: Junot Diaz's "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao"; Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union"; and Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs." Also bypassed was David Halberstam's Korean War history, "The Coldest Winter."

Winners in the four competitive categories _ fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature _ will each receive $10,000. Other finalists get $1,000. The results will be announced at a Nov. 14 ceremony in Manhattan hosted by author-humorist Fran Lebowitz and featuring honorary medals for author Joan Didion and National Public Radio host Terry Gross.

Fiction nominees Berlinski, Denis Johnson and Lydia Davis all were published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which has had an enviable run of National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prize winners in recent years, including Jonathan Franzen's "The Corrections" and Richard Powers' "The Echo Maker."

Johnson's 600-page "Tree of Smoke," published to near-universal acclaim after taking nine years to write, is a Vietnam War novel that has been compared to such classics as Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" and Graham Greene's "The Quiet American."

The other fiction finalist was Jim Shepard's book of short stories, "Like You'd Understand, Anyway." No story collection has won since Andrea Barrett's "Ship Fever," in 1996.

Besides Hitchens, nonfiction nominees include Edwidge Danticat for her memoir, "Brother, I'm Dying," Woody Holton's "Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution" and Tim Weiner's "Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA."

It was the first National Book Award nomination for the British-born Hitchens, who wasn't even eligible for the prize until last April, when on his 58th birthday he became a United States citizen. He resides in Washington, D.C., and has well lived up to the title of his featured column on Slate, "Fighting Words." Objects of attack have included Mother Teresa, Henry Kissinger and, much to the unhappiness of his former liberal allies, opponents of the Iraq War.

One anti-war writer, former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass, is also a book award finalist. Hass, whose "Time and Materials" includes several poems critical of the Iraq invasion, was nominated by a committee presided over by the current poet laureate, Charles Simic. Other poetry finalists are Linda Gregerson's "Magnetic North," David Kirby's "The House on Boulevard St.," Stanley Plumly's "Old Heart" and Ellen Bryant Voigt's "Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006."

Scholastic, Inc., known to many as the U.S. publisher of the Harry Potter books, finally received a National Book Award nomination in young people's literature, for Brian Selznick's "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."

The other finalists are Kathleen Duey's "Skin Hunger" and two first-time novels: M. Sindy Felin's "Touching Snow" and Sara Zarr's "Story of a Girl."

The book awards, founded in 1950, are sponsored by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization.