NEW YORK – Jason Mott’s “Hell of a Book,” a surreal meta-narrative about an author’s promotional tour and his haunted past and present, won the National Book Award for Fiction – a twist that Mott did had not imagined for himself.
“Hell of a Book” is a satirical version of a black writer’s adventures on the road for a promotional tour – Mott himself has had his fair share of experiences speaking of earlier works such as his first novel “The Returned “- and a story 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 crazy kids, to all the strangers, the weirdos, the bullies, those so weird that they had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and those around them. “, Mott, 43, said in his acceptance speech.
He also quoted “those who, despite this, refuse to go beyond their imagination, refuse to give up their dreams, refuse to deny, to diminish their identity, or their truths, or their loves – unlike so many others”.
Tiya Miles’ âEverything She Wore: The Trip of Ashley’s Bag, A Keepsake of the Black Familyâ was the winner for the non-fiction.
Malinda Lo’s âLast Night at the Telegraph Clubâ – a same-sex and cross-cultural love story set in the 1950s – won the Children’s Literature Award.
The poetry prize went to âFloatersâ by MartÃn Espada and the best translation to âWinter in Sokchoâ by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins.
The winners of the competitive Wednesday night categories each receive $ 10,000.
Two honorary awards were presented: playwright Karen Tei Yamashita received a Lifetime Achievement Medal for distinguished contribution to American literature, and NPR author-librarian-commentator Nancy Pearl received the literary award for outstanding service to the American literary community.
The 72nd annual awards were given by the nonprofit National Book Foundation. While other literary events such as the annual PEN America Gala were held in person this fall, the Foundation decided in September to host a virtual ceremony for the second year in a row, citing the complications of hosting ‘a gathering “of authors, editors and guests from across the country.”
Yamashita and Pearl were among the winners who spoke of a precarious gift, worrying about the surge in efforts to censor books in schools and libraries and the violent attacks on racial minorities. Some finalists, fiction and non-fiction, sought meaning in the distant past, whether it was Nicole Eustace’s historic work “Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America” ââor novels such as Lauren Groff’s 12th-13th century account “The Matrix” and Robert Jones, Jr.’s History of Slavery “The Prophets”.
Groff and Jones both say exploring an earlier era is an inspiring way to understand the present. Groff’s novel is based in part on medieval author Marie de France, an outcast of the French royal court who takes over a dilapidated abbey in England and helps turn it into an economic and social force. Men are almost entirely absent and not mentioned in âThe Matrix,â which focuses on Mary’s overthrow of religious and other patriarchal institutions.
“I was deeply impressed with how the contemporary moment and this period in history spoke to each other, almost a millennium apart,” Groff, three-time National Book Award finalist, said in a recent interview. “I saw around that time how we got to where we are and how we treat women – how we still have a lot of ambivalence about the power of women.”
Jones made up – entirely – a love story between two Mississippi slave men, Isaiah and Samuel. While famous slavery novels such as Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” rely on historical documents for their plots, Jones acknowledged that he had no basis for Isaiah and Samuel beyond his time. certainty that men like them were undocumented. He recalled watching a video by British journalist Esther Armah, who said her Ghanaian father and great-grandfather and other members of their community did not categorize relationships based on sexuality.
âEverything was considered natural and normal,â he said. âAnd it 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 actress, writer and comedian Phoebe Robinson, who praised the books as a “passport” to the big world even as she joked that her own books didn’t have it. not brought to the rarefied place of award finalists. “The Wire” actor Dion Graham was the lead announcer, with Kerry Washington and Rita Moreno among those helping to introduce individual categories.
The National Book Awards were established in 1950 and have seen several evolutions, with categories extended for a time to over 20 and reduced to four. In recent years, the Book Foundation has added a category for books in translation and started announcing long lists of 10 in each category before narrowing them down to five.
The juries reviewed more than 1,800 submitted books. This year’s judges included renowned authors like Eula Biss, Ilya Kaminsky and Charles Yu, 2020 winner of the National Book Award for fiction.
This combination of book cover images shows “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake” by Tiya Miles, “Hell of a Book” by Jason Mott and “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” , by Malinda Lo. These books won the National Book Awards for Non-Fiction, Fiction and Children’s Literature, respectively.