Queer writer Edmund White was also honored with a medal for distinguished contribution to American letters

Susan Choi has won the fiction prize at the National Book Awards in New York on Wednesday night. The celebrated author won 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.

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During her speech, Choi thanked past last years winner, Sigrid Nunez, for convincing her to sit down and write the book. This book is collaboration more so than any other book Ive written, Choi said. Given what were 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 Brooms 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 evening ceremony took place at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City and was hosted by LeVar Burton, the star of the educational childrens program Reading Rainbow and Star-Trek: Next Generation.

LeVar
LeVar Burton, star of the childrens program Reading Rainbow, hosted the National Book Awards ceremony. Photograph: Greg Allen/Invision/AP

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.

The prominent queer writer Edmund White received the medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. The famed queer director John Waters presented him with 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 Boys 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. (There were tried and abandoned attempts to revamp the awards ceremony in the 80s, with organizers drawing inspiration from the Oscars.)

Previous winners include Colson Whitehead (2016, The Underground Railroad); Jonathan Franzen (2001, The Corrections); Louise Erdrich (2012, The Round House).

Winners of each category are awarded $10,000, while finalists take home $1,000.

Winning a National Book Award can significantly boost an authors sales. In 2012, Publishers Weekly reported that that years fiction winner, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, experienced a 143% increase in sales.

Some in the literary community have criticized the National Book Awards nomination and selection process. There is no cap on how many books publishers can nominate, as long as they pay a $135 fee for each title. Critics say this puts smaller presses, who often have limited financial resources, at a disadvantage.

In other awards of the evening, Arthur Sze took home the top prize for poetry for his work Sight Lines.

Lszl Krasznahorkai took home the award for translated literature for Baron Wenckheims Homecoming, translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. Translated literature was introduced as a new category last year. Last years inaugural winner was The Emissary by Yoko Tawada. A key stipulation of the category is the works original author and the translator must be living.

The winner of the young peoples 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, womens suffrage and labor strikes. The move was a surprise, as the majority of past winners in the category have been fiction novels.

The 2019 National Book Award 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 Forch

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treue

Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George

Poetry

The Tradition by Jericho Brown

I: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte

Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

Be Recorder by Carmen Gimnez Smith

Winner: Sight Lines by Arthur Sze

Young peoples literature

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

Winner: 1919: The Year that Changed America by Martin W Sandler

Translated literature

Death Is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa; translated from Arabic by Leri Price

Winner: Baron Wenckheims Homecoming by Lszl Krasznahorkai; translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet

The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga; translated from French by Jordan Stump

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa; translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder

Pajtim Statovci, Crossing; translated from Finnish by David Hackston

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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