Last night in Manhattan, legendary rock star Patti Smith received the nonfiction prize at the National Book Awards ceremony for her memoir “Just Kids.” The book recounts Smith’s coming of age as an artist in New York in the 60s and 70s with her dear friend and lover Robert Mapplethorpe. The memoir serves a counter-culture history lesson, a tender love story, and an evocative meditation on art, and any bump in sales it receives as a result of winning the award is well deserved.
Smith became emotional while accepting her prize. She recalled her days as a clerk at Scribner’s Bookstore, where she shelved the National Book Award winners and dreamed of one day writing a story of her own. And she made a case for analog literature:
Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don’t abandon the book. There is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book.
“Just Kids” was a long time coming. Mapplethorpe had asked Smith on his deathbed to tell their story, and she began work on the book shortly after his death in 1989. In conversation with the LA Weekly earlier this year, Smith spoke of her hopes for the book:
I was hoping for Robert’s sake that people would like it. I thought I could probably count on a certain hard-core audience, but it seems like it has spread. Robert would like that. He always wanted me to be successful. If the book does really well, it will be in Robert’s name. So it’s perfect that it’s probably the biggest response I’ve had for something in some years. It figures Robert would be behind it.