By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Writers James McBride and George Packer won National Book Awards, among the most prestigious literary prizes in U.S. publishing, at a gala dinner on Wednesday that also honored authors E.L. Doctorow and Maya Angelou.
McBride took home the 2013 National Book Foundation fiction prize for "The Good Lord Bird," an exploration of identity and survival during slavery.
It was chosen from a short list of books by authors including Rachel Kushner, previous National Book Award winner Thomas Pynchon, Jhumpa Lahiri and George Saunders.
"I didn't prepare a speech. I really didn't think I was going to be up here tonight," McBride said. "It sure is nice."
Packer won the non-fiction prize for "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," a story about the United States that runs from 1978 to 2012 told through the lives of Americans from varying walks of life.
It competed in a category dominated by historical works by Wendy Lower, Jill Lepore, Alan Taylor and Lawrence Wright.
"This is an incredible honor," Packer said after receiving the prize at the 64th annual National Book Awards. "I feel very lucky to be given this award."
Mary Szybist won the poetry prize for "Incarnadine" and Cynthia Kadohata took home the young people's literature award for "The Thing About Luck."
In addition to the bronze statue, winners will also receive $10,000.
"Ragtime" author Doctorow, 82, received the 2013 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for his body of work spanning five decades.
A previous National Book Award winner for fiction in 1986 for "World's Fair," Doctorow was also a finalist in the same category four other times. Previous recipients of the award include Joan Didion, Elmore Leonard and Norman Mailer.
Maya Angelou, whose groundbreaking autobiography "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is an American classic, was awarded the 2013 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
"I am delighted," Angelou, 85, said in an interview ahead of the ceremony. "To be given the award for lifetime achievement is really quite a statement."
The finalists in the four categories were whittled down from 1,432 books submitted for the awards, including 408 in fiction and 517 in non-fiction.
(Changes year in second paragraph to 2013)
(Editing by Eric Walsh)