America’s prestigious literary awards | Sunday Observer
National Book Awards 2021:

America’s prestigious literary awards

12 December, 2021

These are months for literary awards, not just in Sri Lanka, but also in other countries. Recently, United States of America released a list of winners of their main literary awards, National Book Award, for 2021. Hence, it is important to know who and what books won the awards.

National Book Award is organized by the National Book Foundation in America, and its mission is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture. Each year they award $10,000 and a bronze sculpture to the best books in five categories: Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young people’s literature.

Accordingly, in a live-streamed ceremony hosted by Phoebe Robinson, author of ‘You Can’t Touch My Hair And Other Things I Still Have to Explain’, ‘Everything’s Trash’, ‘But It’s Okay’, and the newly released ‘Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes’, the winners of 2021 were announced.

Additional Awards

This year’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community was presented to Nancy Pearl by Ron Charles.

And the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was presented to Karen Tei Yamashita by Viet Thanh Nguyen.

History of the Awards

The National Book Awards were established in 1950, and this is its 72nd installment. However, from the outset, it has 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 fiction.

The 2021 National Book Awards’ ceremony was held as a Zoom event for the second consecutive year, and all the nominees and presenters, including names like Kerry Washington to Rita Moreno, beamed in from their homes. However, the Zoom fatigue couldn’t crush the ceremony’s signature spirit of exuberance, celebration, and literary citizenship, because the viewers toasted the festivities, streamed live, posting images of sauvignon blanc and bubbly champagne on Twitter and Instagram. The winners were announced by Dion Graham, voice artist and audio-books eminence.

The fascinating thing about National Book Awards is that most winners of it later become the most outstanding literary voices in the world. So, we will see who will be the next literary geniuses among these winners.


Best Translation

The best translation prize went to Elisa Shua Dusapin’s ‘Winter In Sokcho’, and it was translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. The finalists consisted of: Ge Fei’s ‘Peach Blossom Paradise’ which was translated from the Chinese by Canaan Morse, Nona Fernández’s ‘The Twilight Zone’ translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer, Benjamín Labatut’s ‘When We Cease to Understand the World’ translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West and Samar Yazbek’s ‘Planet of Clay’ translated from the Arabic by Leri Price.

The longlisted books included: Maryse Condé’s ‘Waiting for the Waters to Rise’ translated from the French by Richard Philcox, Bo-Young Kim’s ‘On the Origin of Species and Other Stories’ translated from the Korean by Joungmin Lee Comfort and Sora Kim-Russell, Elvira Navarro’s ‘Rabbit Island: Stories’ translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney, Judith Schalansky’s ‘An Inventory of Losses’ which was translated from the German by Jackie Smith and Maria Stepanova’s ‘In Memory of Memory’ translated from the Russian by Sasha.

The chair for the best translated literature was Stephen Snyder with judges Jessie Chaffee, Madhu H. Kaza, Achy Obejas, and Sergio de la Pava.


Best Young People’s Literature

2021 the best young people’s literature winner was Malinda Lo’s ‘Last Night At The Telegraph Club’. The finalists for the award are: Shing Yin Khor’s ‘The Legend of Auntie Po’, Kyle Lukoff’s ‘Too Bright to See’, Kekla Magoon’s ‘Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People’ and Amber McBride’s ‘Me (Moth).’

Longlist entries included: Carole Boston Weatherford’s ‘Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre’ illustrated by Floyd Cooper, Safia Elhillo’s ‘Home Is Not a Country’, Darcie Little Badger’s ‘A Snake Falls to Earth’, Anna-Marie McLemore’s ‘The Mirror Season’ and Paula Yoo’s ‘From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement’.

Cathryn Mercier was the chair with additional judges Pablo Cartaya, Traci Chee, Leslie Connor, and Ibi Aanu Zoboi.


Best Poem

Winner of this year’s poetry award is Martin Espada and his winning book is ‘Floaters’. The books that were selected for the final round are: Desiree C. Bailey’s ‘What Noise Against the Cane’, Douglas Kearney’s ‘Sho’, Hoa Nguyen’s ‘A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure’ and Jackie Wang’s ‘The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void’.

The longlist included: ‘Threa Almontaser’s ‘The Wild Fox of Yemen’, Baba Badji’s ‘Ghost Letters’, CM Burroughs’s ‘Master Suffering’, Andrés Cerpa’s ‘The Vault’ and Forrest Gander’s ‘Twice Alive’.

The chair for the poetry award was A. Van Jordan and other judges were Don Mee Choi, Natalie Diaz, Matthea Harvey, and Ilya Kaminsky.


Best Fiction

So, the Fiction award went to Jason Mott’s ‘Hell of A Book’, and the finalists of this category were: Anthony Doerr’s ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’, Lauren Groff’s ‘Matrix’, Laird Hunt’s ‘Zorrie’, Robert Jones’ (Jr.) ‘The Prophets’.

Apart from those final round books, an additional five books were also long-listed which were: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ ‘The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois’, Jakob Guanzon’s ‘Abundance’, Katie Kitamura’s ‘Intimacies’, Elizabeth McCracken’s ‘The Souvenir Museum: Stories’ and Richard Powers’ ‘Bewilderment’.

The 2021 NBA Fiction judges were chaired by Luis Alberto Urrea and additionally included Alan Michael Parker, Emily Pullen, Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, and Charles Yu.


Best Non-Fiction

This year’s Nonfiction winner was Tiya Miles, and her winning book was ‘All That She Carried the Journey of Ashley’s Sack, A Black Family Keepsake’. Finalists for the 2021 National Book Awards in Nonfiction include: Hanif Abdurraqib’s ‘A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance’, Lucas Bessire’s ‘Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains’, Grace M. Cho’s ‘Tastes Like War: A Memoir’ and Nicole Eustace’s ‘Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America.’

The long listed books are: Scott Ellsworth’s ‘The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice’, Heather McGhee’s ‘The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together’, Louis Menand’s ‘The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War’, Clint Smith’s ‘How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America’ and Deborah Willis’s ‘The Black Civil War Soldier: A Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship’. The chair for the nonfiction award was Nell Painter and the other judges were Eula Biss, Aaron John Curtis, Kate Tuttle, and Jerald Walker.