His book joins a list of non-fiction nominees that includes a biography, a poignant memoir about Haiti, a work that questions the framers of the U.S. constitution and an intensely critical history of the CIA.
The non-fiction nominees include Edwidge Dandicat for Brother, I’m Dying, her family’s story of escaping Haiti, Woody Holton’s Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, which claims the founding fathers were not democrats, Arnold Rampersad for Ralph Ellison: A Biography and Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.
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None is as controversial as Hitchens’s work, which provoked a storm of naysayers with its claim that religion poisons everything.
Hitchens is a featured columnist for Slate and Vanity Fair who has angered the right with his attacks against religion and the left with his defence of the Iraq war.
Fiction nominees include Denis Johnson, whose Vietnam War story, Tree of Smoke, took nine years to write.
It has been compared to classics such as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried and Graham Greene’s The Quiet American.
Two first-time novelists — Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End, about office life in a Chicago ad company, and Mischa Berlinski, author of Fieldwork: A Novel, a thriller set in Thailand — earned nominations.
Also on the fiction list were Lydia Davis’s Varieties of Disturbance and Jim Shepard’s book of short stories, Like You’d Understand, Anyway. A short story collection last won in 1996.
Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass received a nomination in the poetry category for Time and Materials, his first poetry collection for 10 years.
Other poetry finalists are:
* Magnetic North by Linda Gregerson.
* The House on Boulevard St. by David Kirby.
* Old Heart by Stanley Plumly.
* Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, by Ellen Bryant Voigt.
Sherman Alexie was cited in the young people’s literature category for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a story about a Spokane Indian boy who is also an artist.
Other nominees for young people’s literature:
* The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.
* Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey.
* Touching Snow by M. Sindy Felin.
* Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr.
The book awards, founded in 1950, are sponsored by the U.S.-based National Book Foundation, a non-profit organization.
Winners will be awarded $10,000 US while finalists will receive $1,000 US.
The results will be announced Nov. 14 at a ceremony in Manhattan, hosted by author-humorist Fran Lebowitz.
With files from the Associated Press