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Susan Choi won the National Book Award for fiction Wednesday night for “Trust Exercise,” a novel set in the 1980s at a competitive performing arts school, where two students fall in love. The judges praised the novel for blending “the intellectual rigor of post-modern technique with a story that is timely, mesmerizing, and in the end, unsettling.”

Choi (inset), a Pulitzer finalist in 2004 for her novel “American Woman,” said in an acceptance speech that she was still surprised and grateful to be able to write for a living.

“Given what we’re all facing today and what many people are facing in an even more intense sense, I find it an astonishing privilege that this is what I get to do for a living,” she said.

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Cape Cod resident Martin W. Sandler won the prize for young people’s literature for his book “1919 The Year That Changed America,” an account of a tumultuous year of labor strikes, Prohibition, and women’s suffrage.

In an interview with the Globe last month, Sandler praised the intellect of his young readers. “Some of my adult publishers would wince at this, but [children] are my most important audience,” Sandler said. “And they are a hell of a lot smarter than we think they are.”

The award for nonfiction went to Sarah Broom for “The Yellow House,” her memoir about her New Orleans home and how her family scattered after Hurricane Katrina.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Broom credited her mother, who raised 12 children, for instilling in her a love of language. “She was always wolfing down words, insatiable,” she said of her mother. “Which is how I learned the way words were a kind of sustenance.”

The awards, now in their 70th year, were presented at a black-tie dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, with more than 700 guests attending the ceremony.

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NEW YORK TIMES


This article originally appeared in The New York Times. Globe correspondent Ysabelle Kempe contributed to this report.