Last night’s National Book Awards ceremony was filled with speeches giving generous praise to other writers. It lacked the challenges to the establishment offered last year by Ursula LeGuin (including a jab at her publisher for their ebook pricing to libraries). Happily, it also lacked the painful moment of casual racism by last year’s host (but why do hosts feel compelled to make fun of the proceedings, as did Andy Horowitz this year, who opened the evening by remarking that most people would say of the Awards’ sponsor, “What the fuck is the National Book Foundation?”).
The day-after reporting stresses the surprise win in fiction as well as diversity of authors.
While most stories focus on Ta-Nehisi Coates’s expected honor in nonfiction for Between the World and Me (PRH/Spiegel & Grau), almost all highlight Adam Johnson’s less expected win for fiction with his short story collection Fortune Smiles: Stories (PRH/Random House).
Reporters such as Meredith Blake of the LA Times writes,
In a completely surprising outcome, Adam Johnson claimed the award for fiction with his short story collection, Fortune Smiles. Johnson, who beat out such favorites as Hanya Yanagihara for A Little Life and Lauren Groff for Fates and Furies, appeared as stunned as anyone by the victory. “I told my wife and my kids, ‘Don’t come across America because this is not going to happen,’” said Johnson, who teaches at Stanford.
Johnson is no stranger to awards, however, having won a Pulitzer in 2013 for The Orphan Master’s Son.
The second major theme of the reporting is the diversity of authors. Bustle offers this take:
In a world when we still (still!) have to call out award committees for having largely white, male longlists and shortlists, it was positively thrilling to see three out of the four awards handed out to black writers. Not only that, but the winners tackled issues like mental illness, racism in modern America, and the black female experience through history.
In summing up the night of bookish celebration, many reports quoted Don DeLillo’s acceptance speech for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters medal (basically, the National Book Foundation’s lifetime achievement award), in which he proclaimed, “Here, I’m not the writer at all, I’m the grateful reader.”
Below is a sample of the reporting. For those who have more of the NBA titles in their TBR piles than not, the VOX story is a particularly good resource, providing a librarian-friendly summary of every nominee’s story line, appeal, and highlights.