Announcement of the 2021 National Book Awards winners

Jason Mott won the Fiction Award for his novel “Hell of a Book” at the 2021 Virtual National Book Awards on Wednesday night, held at the offices of Penguin Random House.

“The hell of a book” opens with the story of a black author traveling the country to promote his novel, but it soon expands to address themes of love, family and what what does it mean to be black in America? The National Book Award Foundation called it a “masterful novel” and praised Mott for handling “the impossible trick of being playful, insightful and deeply moving at the same time.”

Prepared with a pre-written speech, an upset Mott dedicated the award to “Mad Kids.” To all the strangers, the weirdos, the intimidated, the weird ones who had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and those around them.

“Those who, despite this, refused to go beyond their imagination, refused to give up their dreams, refused to deny, to diminish their identity, or their truth or their loves, unlike many others,” he continued .

The 72nd National Book Awards, one of the nation’s most prestigious literary awards, was hosted by New York Times bestselling comedian, actress and writer Phoebe Robinson. The author of three books, the most recent “Please Don’t Sit On My Bed In Your Outerwear,” Robinson is the founder of Tiny Reparations Books, an imprint dedicated to showcasing various voices.

Tiya Miles received the Non-Fiction Award for “All She Wore: The Journey of Ashley’s Bag, A Keepsake of the Black Family”, considered by the judges to be a “brilliant and original work” with a “Graceful prose”. Beginning in the 1850s in South Carolina, the book follows the journey of a cotton sack through generations of women.

After thanking a professor and others, Miles expressed his deep gratitude to his agent, Tanya McKinnon, and editor, Molly Turbin.

“Molly, I remember your face when we were having coffee and we met for the first time and you asked me what my plans were and I said I wanted to write a book on an old bag, because that your face has lit up, ”she said. “You were so curious. You were so receptive. You were the perfect editor for this project and you and I both know it was a co-authored book.

In poetry, Martín Espada won the award for his “Floaters” collection, which celebrates rebels and dreamers and condemns the government’s poor response to Hurricane Maria in 2017 in Puerto Rico, his father’s home country. “These poems remind us of the power of observation, of seeing everything,” all “worthy of being sung,” the judges said.

Espada thanked – among others – his late father, “who provided me with an example both artistic and ethical throughout my life”.

And to his fellow finalists, he added: “I know what it’s like to be where I am and I know what it’s like to be where you are, and I hope we can tie the knot friendships regardless of the National Book Awards. “

The prize in the translated literature category went to Elisa Shua Dusapin for “Winter in Sokcho”, translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. Described as a “tender and mysterious novel” by the judges, it follows a difficult relationship between a Franco-Korean receptionist and a French designer who arrives in the guesthouse where she works.

“It’s amazing to me,” said a stunned Shua Dusapin before concluding her speech in French. “It’s a book that comes a lot from his heart,” said Abbas Higgins, translating for the author. “These are things that are very, very dear to him.”

The Children’s Literature Prize went to Malinda Lo for “Last Night at the Telegraph Club,” which the judges called a “glowing novel of strange possibility.” The story, which takes place in 1954, follows two young women who risk everything to bring their love out of the shadows.

In his acceptance speech, Lo noted the expansion of LGBTQ YA books published over the past 12 years since the release of his first book “Ash”, but added that “opposition to our stories has also grown. increased “, referring to the proliferation of calls to remove certain books from schools.

“This year, schools across the country are facing strong pressure from the right to remove books about people of color, LGBTQ people and especially transgender people from classrooms and libraries,” he said. she declared. “I urge each of you to learn about your school boards and vote in your local elections. 2022 is approaching and we need your support to keep our stories on the shelf. Don’t let them erase us.

Amplifying the message that libraries remain essential to culture, the National Book Foundation bestowed its Literary Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community to Nancy Pearl, a beloved Seattle-based librarian who is also a best-selling author.

The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters went to Karen Tei Yamashita. A former National Book Award finalist and author of eight books and numerous plays, Yamashita teaches literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz.

“Asian-American literature is basically a literature of politics and resistance,” she said in her speech. “For our community, your recognition tonight is important, especially this year after the pandemic, after resisting the twitter of nonsense, corruption and lies. The brutality of racial profiling and the provocation of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, anti-Asian hatred.

“At such times, may our writing forge tolerance and care. ”

Here is the full list of the 2021 National Book Award finalists announced in October:

Youth literature

  • Shing Yin Khor, “The Legend of Aunt Po”
  • Malinda Lo, “The Last Night at the Telegraph Club”
  • Kyle Lukoff, “Too Bright to See”
  • Kekla Magoon, “The Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People”
  • Amber McBride, “Moth (Moth)”

Translated literature

  • Elisa Shua Dusapin, “Winter in Sokcho”, translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins
  • Ge Fei, “Peach Blossom Paradise”, translated from Chinese by Canaan Morse
  • Nona Fernández, “The Twilight Zone”, translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer
  • Benjamín Labatut, “When we stop understanding the world”, translated from Spanish by Adrian Nathan West
  • Samar Yazbek, “Planet of clay”, translated from Arabic by Leri Price


  • Desiree C. Bailey, “What a noise against the cane”
  • Martín Espada, “Floats”
  • Douglas Kearney, “Sho”
  • Hoa Nguyen, “A thousand times you lose your treasure”
  • Jackie Wang, “The sunflower cast a spell to save us from the void”

non-fictional works

  • Hanif Abdurraqib, “A Little Devil in America: Notes Praising Black Performance”
  • Lucas Bessire, “Escape: in search of water in the high plains”
  • Grace M. Cho, “Tastes Like War: A Memoir”
  • Nicole Eustace, “Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America”
  • Tiya Miles, “Everything She Wore: Ashley’s Bag Trip, A Black Family Keepsake”


  • Anthony Doerr, “Land of the cuckoo in the clouds”
  • Lauren Groff, “Matrix”
  • Laird Hunt, “Zorrie”
  • Robert Jones Jr., “The Prophets”
  • Jason Mott, “Hell of a Book”
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