Susan Choi, Sarah Broom, Edmund White & Others Win 2019 National Book Awards
The evening ceremony took place in New York City and was hosted by LeVar Burton, the star of the educational children’s program ‘Reading Rainbow’ and ‘Star-Trek: Next Generation.’
Burton kicked off the event by touching on the power of storytelling: “If you can read in at least one language you are, in my definition, free”.
Susan Choi won the best fiction prize at the 70th National Book Awards ceremony for her book Trust Exercise.
Susan Choi won the best fiction prize for her fifth novel, ‘Trust Exercise’, about teens attending an elite drama school in the south during the ’80s which was praised for its bold experimentations with narrative and form.
‘Trust Exercise’ beat out ‘Sabrina & Corina’: Stories by Kali Fajarado-Anstine; ‘Black Leopard, Red Wolf’ by Marlon James; ‘The Other Americans’ by Laila Lalami; and ‘Disappearing Earth’ by Julie Phillips for the top prize.
During her speech, Choi thanked past last year’s winner, Sigrid Nunez, for convincing her to sit down and write the book. “This book is collaboration more so than any other book I’ve written,” Choi said. “Given what we’re all facing today I find it an astonishing privilege what I get to do every day. I get to lead a life centered on books and bring other people into that world.”
The Guardian called Trust Exercise a “masterly study of power and its abuses” that touched on themes of “consent and its ambiguity” in a #MeToo era.
The top prize for nonfiction went to Sarah M Broom for The Yellow House, a touching memoir that tells the history of Broom’s family in an impoverished section New Orleans.
Broom accepted the award by acknowledging her mother, who raised 12 children, and thanking her for nourishing and supporting her love for words. “I am in this room; and so is my mother,” she said.
The prominent queer writer Edmund White received the medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. The famed queer director John Waters presented him the medal.
White is best known for honest portrayals of the AIDS crisis and gay romance in his work. The prolific writer has released 13 novels, five memoirs, four biographies, and one play over his five-decade career. He is best known for seminal LGBT works such as the semi-autobigraphical A Boy’s Own Story (1982) and sex manual The Joy of Gay Sex (1972; co-written with Charles Silverstein).
Past medal recipients include Oprah Winfrey (1999), Stephen King (2003), and Ursula Le Guin (2014).
During his acceptance speech, White touched on the homophobia his first novels experienced in the ’70s. He recounted a New York Times Book Review calling his work “too gay”.
“To go from the most maligned to a highly lauded writer in a half century is astonishing,” White said, emotional.
The National Book Awards, now in its 70th year, was established in 1950, but has existed in its current iteration since 1989.
Winners of each category are awarded $10,000, while finalists take home $1,000.
In other awards of the evening, Arthur Sze took home the top prize for poetry for his work Sight Lines.
László Krasznahorkai took home the award for translated literature for Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Translated literature was introduced as a new category last year. Last year’s inaugural winner was The Emissary by Yoko Tawada. A key stipulation of the category is the work’s original author and the translator must be living.
The winner of the young people’s literature award was Martin W Sandler for 1919: The Year That Changed America. The non-fiction book examines the crucial year in American history, taking in prohibition, women’s suffrage, and labor strikes. The move was a surprise, as the majority of past winners in the category have been fiction novels.
Find below a list of the 2019 National Book Award shortlist & winners:
Fiction Winner: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi,
Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
The Other Americans by Laila Lalami
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
Nonfiction Winner: The Yellow House by Sarah M Broom,
Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treue