Cartoonist Art Spiegelman was honored for his life’s work with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Award gala on Wednesday evening in New York. Spiegelman is best known for his graphic novel “Maus,” which deals with the Holocaust by depicting Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. First released as a series, the cartoons were compiled in a 1991 work that won the Pulitzer Prize. (Also read: Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto turns 70)

Earlier this year, the work was banned by a Tennessee school district over accusations it contains “swear words” and depictions of nudity.

In his acceptance speech, Spiegelman referred to the ban, and the fact that a larger movement of censorship is targeting the experiences of marginalized people.

“Most of today’s attacked books — many of them graphic novels — deal with queer identities and America’s race issues,” he said, adding that even though “Maus” specifically portrays his parents’ experience as Jews in Nazi Europe, it can also be seen as “a universal symbol for all murderous othering.”

Tess Gunty wins best fiction with debut novel

The winner of the prestigious National Book Award in the fiction category was Tess Gunty with her novel “The Rabbit Hutch,” set in a low-income housing community in Indiana.

Imani Perry won in the nonfiction category, for “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation.” The professor of African American studies at Princeton offers a personal examination of race, culture, politics and identity in the US through a trip to the south of the country, where she is from.

John Keene’s “Punks: New & Selected Poems” won in the poetry category, and “All my Rage” by Sabaa Tahir won over the jury in the category for young people’s literature.

In the category for translated literature, Samanta Schweblin, a Berlin-based Argentinean, won with “Seven Empty Houses.”

Past National Book Award winners include William Faulkner, John Updike, Thornton Wilder, Don DeLillo and Susan Sontag.

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