We’ve talked about about the National Book Awards here at the Free For All, and today, we are overjoyed to bring you the winners, (almost) live from the Cipriani in Manhattan….
(drum roll, please?)…..
Congratulations to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Johnson, Robin Coste Lewis, and Neal Shusterman!!
Ta-Nehisi Coates has been having quite a banner year, strining together accolades and praise for his memoir Between the World and Me, including receiving a MacArthur ‘genius’ in September, which is awarded for “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work”. His book is dedicated to his friend, Prince Jones, who was killed by a police officer in 2000, and whose death sits at the heart of this work of being black in America, and carrying the weight of history on one’s shoulders every single day.
Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles, which won the award for fiction, is another success from a writer who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son in 2012. As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, ““How do you follow a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel? For [Adam] Johnson, the answer is a story collection, and the tales are hefty and memorable. . . . Often funny, even when they’re wrenchingly sad, the stories provide one of the truest satisfactions of reading: the opportunity to sink into worlds we otherwise would know little or nothing about.” Interestingly, his book was actually not among the favorites to win the prize (that distinction apparently went to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies).
Robin Coste Lewis took the award for poetry for her debut collection Voyage of the Sable Venus, which, sadly, NOBLE doesn’t have (yet!), but which deals with the perception of the black female figure in art, and in the world. In one poem, titled “Venus of Compton”, Lewis presents the title of works depicting black women through forty thousand years of human history in a manner that The New Yorker called “magical…All those women made into serviceable, mute paddles and spoons, missing their limbs and heads, are, by the miracle of verbal art, restored.” Just as memorable: Lewis dedicated the poem to “the legacy of black librarianship, and black librarians, worldwide” for opening up the world to her, once upon a time.
Last, but by no mean least, we have Neal Shusterman, whose novel Challenger Deep won the American Book Award for ‘young people’s literature’. His work focuses on a teen who is dealing with the onset of schizophrenia, and trying desperately to balance the worlds inside and outside his head. Booklist gave it a starred review, saying it is “Haunting, unforgettable, and life-affirming all at once”. What makes this particular book remarkable, though, is what a personal piece it is–Shusterman based his hero, Caleb, on his son, Brendan, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 16. Brendan illustrated this book, as well, making this book a beautiful and truly meaningful piece of collaboration.
Congratulations to all these marvelous National Book Award winners, and thank you for sharing your brilliance with us!