James McBride would be Luke Skywalker. This year's underdog, McBride is the surprise winner in fiction with Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books). McBride accepted his award and $10,000 Wednesday evening at the black-tie Cipriani Wall Street affair with the boyish charm of a young Jedi newly realizing, Holy shit, I've got the force. Where's my speech? Other winners include George Packer's The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (FSG) and Mary Szybist for Incarnadine (Graywolf Press). The highlight of the evening, however, came when Toni Morrison presented Maya Angelou with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Community.
Angelou, long considered a literary knight, gallant and outspoken, took the stage and accepted her award with the composure and power of the Jedi order. "You are rainbows in my clouds," she told attendees. As are you, Dr. Angelou.
The most notable, albeit uncomfortable speech of the evening, was E. L. Doctorow's sermon on technology. A somber, Vader-like dogma certain to scare hipster, word-wielding ewoks into submission. If you cannot feel his death grip through the media, take a moment. Close your eyes. Yep. There it is. "Text is now a verb... More radically, a search engine is not an engine. A platform is not a platform. A bookmark is not a bookmark because an e-book is not a book." No light saber or super helmet required. Doctorow, with print in hand and sporting a black tweed cape, has deemed digital publishing an invalid form. Beware. We of the digital are the enemy. And those of us who work within the venues of both print and digital are traitors. We will likely be hanged. Get your lightsabers ready. Watch your perimeters. Delete your Kindle copies of All the Time in the World. The stormtroopers are coming.