Although the outcome of the Presidential election in the United States remains in the minds of most Americans, tonight the National Book Award ceremony, hosted by Larry Wilmore, affirmed the power of books. The host wryly noted: “Books may be our only evidence of a civilized society at some point.”
Live streaming the National Book Award today on my iPhone was an easy way to rub elbows with literary luminaries. A few of my favorite authors were at tables eating dinner together; judges included Katherine Paterson (The Bridge to Terabithia) and Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves).
I saw an emotional U.S. Congressman John Lewis, civil rights activist and Freedom Rider, win the award for Young People’s Literature for his graphic novel about the civil rights movement in March: Book Three. I heard Daniel Borzutzky acceptance when he won the poetry prize for The Performance of Becoming Human – a book published in a New York apartment.
The award for fiction was awarded to Colson Whitehead for The Underground Railroad. Michiko Kakutani called the book “…a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery” in a review for the New York Times. Whitehead is a MacArthur Fellow but also had the dubious honor of being placed on the Oprah Book Club list.
Lynn Neary for National Public Radio offered a succinct assessment of the National Book Award and its influence…
The bitter presidential campaign exposed a fault line in the United States that will not easily be repaired. And while there’s no one simple answer, Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation, recommends one way to understand the other side: read.
“My life is small” she says, “and I think books are a way to make your life larger…We all need to be reading across the lines we’ve drawn in our lives…a book is a great connector, so the next time you’re looking for something to read, don’t just read the thing that you think is for you … read the thing that’s not.”