NEW YORK – Judy Blume (search), a beloved children's book writer known for such candid tales as "Deenie" and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," has been named this year's winner of an honorary National Book Award (search) for contributions to American letters.
"We're very pleased to have Judy Blume receive the prize, because it is the first time we have given it to a young people's author. She is also someone who gives back a great deal to the community," said Deborah E. Wiley, chairman of the board of the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization which sponsors the awards.
Blume's prize will be officially announced Wednesday, Wiley said.
While past winners include Arthur Miller, Philip Roth (search) and Eudora Welty (search), in recent years the medal has gone just as often to writers of genres once disregarded by the literary establishment. Ray Bradbury (search), the science fiction master, won in 2000. Stephen King (search), known for his horror tales, received the prize last year.
"Having raised two daughters I can tell you how important the work of Judy Blume is. For young people, she is as literary a writer as you can ask for," Jessica Hagedorn, a foundation board member and author of "Dogeaters" and several other books, said Tuesday.
Like King, the 66-year-old Blume has enjoyed enormous commercial success. Her books have sold more than 75 million copies and have been translated into more than 20 languages. She is also founded the Kids Fund (search), a charitable and educational foundation, and has served on numerous boards, including the Author's Guild and the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Not all grown-ups have found her work fit for children. Blume is known for dealing explicitly with sex, religion and divorce and her books often have been placed in restricted sections of libraries or pulled altogether. In 1999, she responded by editing the compilation "Places I Never Meant To Be, Original Stories by Censored Writers."
Blume has received numerous children's books prizes, but critics have been divided about her work, with some finding her heavy-handed, and others praising her honesty and accessibility.
"She has convinced millions of young people that truth can be found in a book and that reading is fun," Faith McNulty once wrote in The New Yorker. "At a time that many believe may be the twilight of the written word, those are things to be grateful for."
Blume, herself the mother of three, will accept her medal Nov. 17 at the 55th annual National Book Awards ceremony, in New York. Nominations for competitive awards will be announced next month.