The National Book Award Winners 2015
Last night they announced the winners of the National Book Awards. Keep reading to find out who took home the prize.
Fiction winner: Fortune Smiles: Stories by Johnson. This is the second year in a row that a collection of short stories won the prize for the fiction category. Below is the Amazon synopsis:
Amazon synopsis: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his acclaimed novel about North Korea, The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson is one of America’s most provocative and powerful authors. Critics have compared him to Kurt Vonnegut, David Mitchell, and George Saunders, but Johnson’s new book will only further his reputation as one of our most original writers. Subtly surreal, darkly comic, both hilarious and heartbreaking, Fortune Smiles is a major collection of stories that gives voice to the perspectives we don’t often hear, while offering something rare in fiction: a new way of looking at the world.
In six masterly stories, Johnson delves deep into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. “Nirvana,” which won the prestigious Sunday Times short story prize, portrays a programmer whose wife has a rare disease finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. In “Hurricanes Anonymous”—first included in the Best American Short Stories anthology—a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine” follows a former warden of a Stasi prison in East Germany who vehemently denies his past, even as pieces of it are delivered in packages to his door. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject, North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.
Nonfiction winner: No surprises here. Ta-Nehisis Coates’ Between the World and Me took home this prize. This was by far the favorite and was expected to win. Here’s the Amazon synopsis:
Amazon synopsis: In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Poetry winner: This prize went to a debut collection – Voyage of the Sable Venus: and Other Poems by Robin Coste Lewis. Here’s the synopsis:
Amazon Synopsis: A stunning poetry debut: this meditation on the black female figure throughout time introduces us to a brave and penetrating new voice.
Robin Coste Lewis’s electrifying collection is a triptych that begins and ends with lyric poems considering the roles desire and race play in the construction of the self. The central panel is the title poem, “Voyage of the Sable Venus,” a riveting narrative made up entirely of titles of artworks from ancient times to the present—titles that feature or in some way comment on the black female figure in Western art. Bracketed by Lewis’s autobiographical poems, “Voyage” is a tender and shocking study of the fragmentary mysteries of stereotype, as it juxtaposes our names for things with what we actually see and know. Offering a new understanding of biography and the self, this collection questions just where, historically, do ideas about the black female figure truly begin—five hundred years ago, five thousand, or even longer? And what role has art played in this ancient, often heinous story? From the “Young Black Female Carrying / a Perfume Vase” to a “Little Brown Girl / Girl Standing in a Tree / First Day of Voluntary / School Integration,” this poet adores her culture and the beauty to be found within it. Yet she is also a cultural critic alert to the nuances of race and desire and how they define us all, including herself, as she explores her own sometimes painful history. Lewis’s book is a thrilling aesthetic anthem to the complexity of race—a full embrace of its pleasure and horror, in equal parts.
Young People’s Literature: This went to Neal Shusterman for his young adult novel, Challenger Deep. Shusterman’s book was inspired by his son’s mental health struggles after being diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression.
Amazon synopsis: A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman.
Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.
Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.
Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.
Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.
Caden Bosch is torn.
Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today’s most admired writers for teens. Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep “a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary.”
James Patterson was also recognized with the Literarian award for service to the literary community. Patterson has donated over 250,000 books for children.
Last but not least, Don DeLillo won the medal for distinguished contribution to American letters.
You can see the shortlist candidates in our prior post here.
What do you think? Have you read any of the winning books? Do you plan to read any?