This past weeks 71st National Book Awards was broadcasted online for all to watch live on the National Book Foundation’s website and on Youtube. Even though the global pandemic has canceled many large events this year the National Book Foundation was able to continue the ceremony and bring us the exciting awards we have all been waiting for.
This years host was Jason Reynolds. An American author of novels and poetry for young adult and middle age audiences. Winner of the Audie Award for middle grade, The John Newbery Medal, The Edgar Award for Best Young Adult, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature and the Michael L Printz award. Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, and David Steinberger, chair of the Board of Directors in the National Book Foundation gave some inspiring and heartfelt speeches.
First up for the awards was the Lifetime Achievement Honoree Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon and Schuster, who passed away earlier this year. Carolyn served on the National Board of Directors for almost twenty years and was a bookworm through and through. She once said that “Reading is one of the greatest things a human can do.” Through her commitments and love for publishing she has inspired many people, building a legacy that will always be apart of the industry she loved so much. Her lifelong devotion to literature, her kindness and support will be missed.
For the first time in thirty-two years of the National Book Foundation, the award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was awarded to Walter Mosley, the first black man to receive this awarded. Mosley has written over fifty critically acclaimed books beginning with his first debut novel, The Devil in a Blue Dress, written in 1990. This book was the first bestselling mystery series that launched him into literary fame. His powerful message left us in awe as he opened his speech with these words.
“There is a great weight hanging over the reception of an award when the underlying subject is ‘the first black man to receive’. I prefer to believe that we are on the threshold of a new day, that this evening is but one of 10,000 steps being taken to recognize the potential of its nation.”
The historical importance of receiving this award was explained further as Mosley gave his speech. Retelling his memories and story of how he was denied entrance into a library as a child because of his skin color and how he overcame the racism and educational blocks in his life.
Next up, was the five genre awards. The Young Peoples Literature award, presented by Joann Trygg, was awarded to Kacen Callender for his book King and the Dragonflies. This story brings us a young twelve year old, Kingston James, whose life is filled with loss and grieve. As his brother’s death takes a toll on his family, Kings must keep the secret that his brother has come back as a dragonfly and visits him in his dreams. When Kings best friend goes missing only to show up hiding in his backyard, Kings is taken on an adventure that will help him overcome his own identity.
The Translated Literature Award went to Yu Miri the author of Tokyo Ueno Station translated by Morgan Giles. In Tokyo Ueno Station a homeless ghost haunts Tokyo’s busiest train station, reminiscing the oppressed live he lived.
Presented by Layli Lang Soldier, the Poetry Award went to Don Mee Choi. Poet and translater of DMZ Colony. Choi explained that this book of poetry was in honor of her father as she tells the world of the violence and injustice in Korea’s Demilitarized Zone.
The Nonfiction was awarded to Les Payne and Tamara Payne for The Dead are Rising: The Life of Malcom X. This father and daughter duo teamed up to write a riveting story of Malcom X’s life. Les Payne interviewed every person he could locate that had known Malcom throughout his life. After thirty years of research, Tamara Payne joined in and completed the book after her fathers death.
The Fiction award presented by Roxane Gay was awarded to Charles Yu for his comical and witty book Interior Chinatown. What was first written as a screenplay Yu’s whimsical novel tells of a young man, Willis Wu, who dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. First he must overcome racist and stereotypical roles such as “Kung Fu Guy” and “Silent Henchman”.
The night ended with a surprise performance by John Darnielle, a singer for The Mountain Goats and a judge on the Translated Literature panel. Darnielle sang a song that we could all relate to from his bands album called, “This year”. With the chorus exclaiming, “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me”.
IMAGES VIA AMAZON