Charles Yu won the National Fiction Award on Wednesday for his mind-boggling satire “Interior Chinatown”, sending Hollywood and Asian-American stereotypes.
The screenplay includes an ambitious actor named Willis Wu, who faces unforced racism and the brutal hierarchies of the entertainment world in his quest to complete everyday roles such as The Provider or The Quiet Henchman. Judges described the novel as “wonderfully inventive” and “cheerful and indiscriminately heartbreaking.”
Mr. Yu, who was one of the five most promising writers at the National Book Foundation in 2007 in America, worked as a lawyer before giving up writing. Inner Chinatown is his fourth book.
It was a suitably surreal speech for an unusual award ceremony, at a time when reality often felt stranger than fiction.
In normal times, the National Book Awards ceremony is a lavish black tie affair on Cipriani Wall Street, with a ceremony that attracts the strongest people in publishing and a galaxy of literary stars. This year, as with so many cultural events that were mixed as a result of the pandemic, the ceremony took place online, aired on YouTube and the foundation’s website.
The mood this year was still optimistic, even in practice, as a much larger digital audience joined the celebration, which usually attracts about 700 people in person.
“It’s hard in a pandemic,” Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, said in a video message. “We were afraid we wouldn’t be able to do this show and here we are.”
The Scientific Literature Prize went to The Dead Rise: The Life of Malcolm X, a deeply researched biography of Les Payne and his daughter Tamara Payne. In an emotional acceptance speech, Ms. Payne, who researched the book with her father and completed it after his death in 2018, thanked him “for his commitment to this great work” and “for attracting me as his second.” pilot. “
“It’s such a bitter moment,” she said. “I really wish my father was here for that.”
The awards, now in their 71st year, were hosted by Jason Reynolds, best-selling children’s book author and two-time National Book Award finalist.
The National Book Award, dating back to 1950, is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world and has been awarded to literary icons such as WH Auden, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor.
This year’s award ceremony, which took place as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow around the world, provided more than a moment of lightness to the literary world. For struggling book authors and sellers who have seen a sharp drop in sales this year, literary awards such as the National Book Awards and the Booker Prize can draw much-needed attention to neglected titles.
While brand authors and major publishing companies have seen healthy sales this year – print sales have risen seven percent this year compared to 2019 – much smaller, independent publishers and lesser-known writers are struggling as universities and bookstores in the United States have closed, cutting off vital pathways to readers.
More than half of the finalists this year were released by independent publishers and academic press. Eight of the 25 finalists were debuts.
Some speakers hinted at the tense political climate after the election, the ongoing struggle for racial equality and the devastation of the pandemic. Writer Roxanne Gay, who presented this year’s Fiction Award, spoke about the responsibility of science fiction writers to deal with the challenging times we live in.
“It’s hard to write when the world feels like it’s falling apart,” she said. “As writers, we have a responsibility to respond to this political moment. We have a responsibility to testify. “
The fiction finalists include Ruman Alam’s quiet and sinister apocalyptic home drama “Leave the World Behind”; The collection of short stories by Disha Fillau “The Secret Life of Church Ladies”; Lydia Milet’s Children’s Bible, a novel that explores the chaos of climate change; and Douglas Stewart’s autobiographical novel Shuggie Bain, which takes place in Glasgow in the 1980s and is also a Booker finalist.
Finalists for the Non-Fiction Award include Carla Cornejo Villavicencio’s Undocumented Americans an in-depth account of the lives of immigrants; Claudio Sont ‘s “Unworthy Republic”, which examines the effects of the Indian Abolition Act of 1830; Gerald Walker’s How to Make a Slave and Other Essays, in which he reflects on his experience of racism; and Jen Chapland’s unusual biography “My Autobiography of Carson McCullers”, which examines the hidden love life of the southern writer.
The Literature Prize for Young People went to Kacen Callender for “King and Dragonflies”, which depicts a black boy fighting after the death of his brother.
The award for translated literature went to Yu Miri’s novel Tokyo Ueno Station, which was translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles and told by a ghost who visited a park where he lived when he was homeless.
The prize for translated literature – a category added in 2018 – this year included works written in Arabic, Spanish, German and Swedish. They were Pilar Quintana’s “Bitch” about a Colombian woman’s relationship with an orphaned puppy; “As High as Water Rises,” a debut novel about an oil rig worker by German poet Anya Kampmann; “Minor details” by Adania Shibli, who focuses on a woman in Ramallah who decides to investigate the decade-long murder of a Palestinian teenager; and Jonas Hassen Hemiri’s novel The Family Clause about a painful family reunion in Stockholm.
The poetry award went to the collection of poet and translator Don Mi Choi “Colony DMZ”, a collage of stories of survivors, prose and quotes with photos and drawings, named after the Demilitarized Zone of Korea.
The Literarian Prize, which recognizes the recipient’s contribution to the American literary community, was posthumously awarded to Carolyn Reedy, CEO of Simon & Schuster, who died in May. The award, which was accepted by Ms. Reedy’s husband, Stephen Reedy, was presented by people who worked closely with Ms. Reedy – including author Bob Woodward, who said of Ms. Reedy, “Carolyn was in and through the book man. ”
Novelist Walter Mosley, perhaps best known for his mysterious series starring Detective Izzy Rawlins, received the Foundation’s Medal for Outstanding Contribution to American Letters, a lifetime achievement award previously awarded to Tony Morrison, Don DeLillo. and Ursula K. Le Guin. Mr Mosley, the first black man to receive the award in his 32-year history, noted how long this stage was overdue: “One can be addicted to the monumental negative space surrounding the light that this award represents,” he said. “That dying gasp or first breath?”