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Jon Littell Wins Top French Lit Prize

American novelist Jonathan Littell in is seen in Paris. The French prestigious Goncourt literary prize was awarded Monday, Nov. 6, 2006
AP Photo/Gallimard/HO
American writer Jonathan Littell won France's prestigious Goncourt Prize on Monday for a 900-page novel narrated by a Nazi SS officer — and written in French.

Meanwhile closer to home, Alan Zweibel, the author and former "Saturday Night Live" writer, beat out Kinky Friedman, author, songwriter and candidate for Texas governor, for the Thurber Prize for American Humor.

Littell's "Les Bienveillantes," or "The Kindly Ones," had garnered wide attention in France both for its subject matter and the nationality of its author. The Goncourt is France's most prestigious literary honor.

The book, which has topped French best-seller lists for weeks, will be published in the United States in 2008, following an extensive bidding war won by HarperCollins.

The 38-year-old Littell grew up in the United States, but wrote his debut book in French as a tribute to two of his favorite authors, Stendhal and Flaubert. Littell's father, Robert Littell, is known for such spy novels as "Legends" and "An Agent in Place."

Zweibel, who also helped Billy Crystal write the hit Broadway show, "700 Sundays," was cited by Thurber jurors Monday for "The Other Shulman," his comic novel about mid-life crisis and the New York City Marathon. The Thurber prize, given for the year's outstanding work of humor writing, is worth $5,000.

Friedman was a runner-up for the essay collection, "Texas Hold 'Em." The other finalist was Bill Scheft for his novel, "Time Won't Let Me."

The award, named for the great American humorist and illustrator, was founded in 1997 by Thurber House, a "national literary center for writers and readers" based in Thurber's childhood home in Columbus, Ohio.

Previous winners of the Thurber prize include Jon Stewart, David Sedaris and Christopher Buckley.