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Poet Adrienne Rich Given Honorary National Book Award

Poet Adrienne Rich and two founders of The New York Review of Books have been named recipients of honorary National Book Awards medals, the National Book Foundation announced Wednesday.

The 77-year-old Rich, known for her passionate, socially conscious verse, has been awarded a "Medal for Distinguished Contribution." Her previous honors include a National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize. She has also turned down an award, refusing the National Medal for the Arts in 1997 because it "is incompatible with the cynical politics of this (the Clinton) administration."

The Literarian Award, given for "outstanding service to the American literary community," goes to Robert Silvers and the late Barbara Epstein, who in the early 1960s helped start the New York Review of Books, still a leading literary publication. Epstein died in June at age 76.

"Adrienne Rich, Robert Silvers, and Barbara Epstein have been major forces in the literary world for decades, mavericks and visionaries who have held all of us who love books and writing to the highest possible standard. They remind us that books have the power to enrich our world," Harold Augenbraum, the book foundation's executive director, said in a statement.

Rich, a native of Baltimore who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five books of nonfiction. "Diving Into the Wreck" won the National Book Award for poetry in 1974.

The New York Review of Books was conceived during a newspaper strike in Manhattan, with the manifesto that no time would be wasted on books "trivial in their intentions or venal in their effects, except occasionally to reduce a temporarily inflated reputation or call attention to a fraud." Over the years, contributors have included Isaiah Berlin, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy and Gore Vidal.

Also Wednesday, the National Book Foundation announced that writer and humorist Fran Lebowitz will host this fall's National Book Awards ceremony, to be held Nov. 15 in New York. Finalists in the competitive categories will be announced Oct. 11 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, last year's winner of the Literarian Award. He will read the list of nominees at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.

The National Book Foundation is a nonprofit organization that sponsors numerous readings and educational programs.