On the evening of November 15, 2011, 20 National Book Award finalists read from their nominated works at The New School in New York City. The awards were presented the following evening at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. Actor John Lithgow was the emcee.
The winners are:
- Nonfiction – Stephen Greenblatt – The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
- Young People’s Literature – Thanhha Lai – Inside Out & Back Again
- Poetry – Nikky Finney – Head Off & Split
- Fiction – Jesmyn Ward – Salvage the Bones
In addition, Mitchell Kaplan, bookseller and Miami Book Fair co-founder, was presented with the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, and poet John Ashbery was presented with the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.