Malinda Lo’s "Last Night at the Telegraph Club" has won a National
Book Awards for young people’s literature. (Random House/Dutton/Dutton
Books for Young Readers via AP)
Author-playwright Karen Tei Yamashita received a lifetime achievement
medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (DCAL), an
honorary prize. (Image courtesy of the National Book Foundation)
National Book Awards announced
By Hillel Italie
The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Jason Mott’s "Hell of a Book," a surreal
meta-narrative about an author’s promotional tour and his haunted past
and present, has won the National Book Award for fiction — a plot twist
Mott did not imagine for himself.
"Hell of a Book" is a satirical take on a Black writer’s adventures
on the road for a promotional tour — Mott himself had his share of
experiences while talking up such previous works as his debut novel "The
Returned" — and a stark and disorienting tale of racial violence and
identity, drawing on recent headlines and the author’s childhood.
"I would like to dedicate this award to all the other mad kids, to
all the outsiders, the weirdos, the bullied, the ones so strange they
had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and those around
them," Mott, 43, said in his acceptance speech.
He also cited "the ones who, in spite of this, refuse to outgrow
their imagination, refuse to abandon their dreams, refused to deny,
diminish their identity, or their truths, or their loves — unlike so
Tiya Miles’ "All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a
Black Family Keepsake" was the winner for nonfiction.
Malinda Lo’s "Last Night at the Telegraph Club" — a story of
same-sex, cross-cultural love set in the 1950s — won for young people’s
The poetry prize was awarded to Martín Espada’s "Floaters," and best
translation went to Elisa Shua Dusapin’s "Winter in Sokcho," translated
from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins.
Winners in the competitive categories each receive $10,000.
Two honorary prizes were presented: Author-playwright Karen Tei
Yamashita received a lifetime achievement medal for Distinguished
Contribution to American Letters, and author-librarian-NPR commentator
Nancy Pearl was given the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to
the American Literary Community.
The 72nd annual awards were presented by the nonprofit National Book
Foundation. While other literary events such as PEN America’s annual
gala were held in person this fall, the Foundation decided in September
to have a virtual ceremony for the second straight year, citing the
complications of organizing a gathering of "authors, publishers, and
guests travelling from all over the country."
Yamashita and Pearl were among the honorees who spoke of a precarious
present, worrying about the wave of efforts to censor books at schools
and libraries and about violent attacks against racial minorities. Some
finalists, fiction and nonfiction, looked for meaning in the distant
past, whether Nicole Eustace’s historical work "Covered with Night: A
Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America," or such novels
as Lauren Groff’s 12th-13th century narrative "Matrix" and Robert Jones,
Jr.’s slavery story "The Prophets."
Both Groff and Jones say that exploring a previous time is an
inspiring way to understand the present. Groff’s novel is based in part
on the medieval author Marie de France, an outcast from the French royal
court who takes over a rundown abbey in England and helps build it into
an economic and social force. Men are almost entirely absent, and
unmentioned, in "Matrix," which centers on Marie’s upending of religious
and other patriarchal institutions.
"I was deeply impressed by how the contemporary moment and that
period of history were speaking to each other, from almost a millennium
apart," Groff, a three-time National Book Award finalist, said in a
recent interview. "I saw in that time the seeds of how we got to where
we are and how we treat women — the way we still have a lot of
ambivalence about female power."
Jones invented — entirely — a love story between two enslaved men in
Mississippi, Isaiah and Samuel. While such famed slavery novels as Toni
Morrison’s "Beloved" draw on historical records for their plots, Jones
acknowledged he had no basis for Isaiah and Samuel beyond his certainly
that men like them went undocumented. He remembered watching a video of
the British journalist Esther Armah, who said that her Ghanaian father
and great-grandfather and others in their community did not categorize
relationships by sexuality.
"It was all considered natural and normal," he said. "And that gave
me the courage to write about people like Samuel and Isaiah. People like
Samuel and Isaiah must have existed."
The event was hosted by actor-writer-comedian Phoebe Robinson, who
praised books as a "passport" to the greater world even as she joked
that her own books didn’t bring her to the rarefied place of awards
finalists. Actor Dion Graham of "The Wire" served as the main announcer,
with Kerry Washington and Rita Moreno among those who helped introduce
The National Book Awards were established in 1950, and have gone
through several evolutions, with categories expanded for a time to more
than 20 and reduced to as few as four. In recent years, the book
foundation added a category for books in translation and began
announcing long lists of 10 in each category before paring them to five.
Judging panels looked through more than 1,800 submitted books. This
year’s judges included such acclaimed authors as Eula Biss, Ilya
Kaminsky, and Charles Yu, winner in 2020 of the National Book Award for
Read the current issue of The Asian Reporter in
Just visit <www.asianreporter.com/completepaper.htm>!