NEW YORK (AP) — Don DeLillo is pleased to receive an honorary National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement, but a "little intimidated" by the citation for "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters."
"The kid from the Bronx is still crouching in a corner of my mind," the author of "White Noise," ''Underworld" and other novels told The Associated Press, responding to questions via fax.
The 78-year-old New York City native was praised Wednesday by the National Book Foundation, which presents the awards, for "a diverse body of work that examines the mores of contemporary modern American culture and brilliantly embeds the rhythms of everyday speech within a beautifully composed, contoured narrative."
The foundation told the AP that Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan will introduce DeLillo at the 66th annual National Book Awards ceremony, which takes place Nov. 18 in Manhattan. Previous honorary winners include Toni Morrison, Philip Roth and Norman Mailer.
"Don DeLillo is unquestionably one of the greatest novelists of his generation," Harold Augenbraum, the foundation's executive director, said in a statement. "He has had an enormous influence on the two generations of writers that followed, and his work will continue to resonate for generations to come."
DeLillo has long been praised for his uncanny insights on technology, alienation and terrorism, even setting a Grief Management Council in the World Trade Center in his novel "Players," which came out more than 20 years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He told the AP that when he looks back on his work he thinks of it "as one writer's shifting response to the challenges and public upheavals of the last 60 or 70 years."
"The moments, hours, days and years of Sept. 11 were the terrible reality that shaped one of my novels 'Falling Man,' but I don't think of myself as a writer whose earlier work embodied that event," he said. "I'm reluctant to invoke another act of violence but it's possible that the assassination of President (John F.) Kennedy began to shape me as a writer even before I began work on my first novel."
DeLillo's other books include "Running Dog," ''The Names" and "Point Omega." Asked to name some young writers he feels an affinity for, he joked that at his age "they're all younger."
"Lists are a form of cultural hysteria so let's just say that the strong work keeps coming and that the novel as a form continues to provoke innovation on the part of younger writers," he said. "It's true that some of us become better writers by living long enough. But this is also how we become worse writers. The trick is to die in between."