Ta-Nehisi Coates wins National Book Award for nonfiction

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

2015’s National Book Award winners give moving, socially conscious speeches.

NEW YORK • Ta-Nehisi Coates won the National Book Award for non-fiction on Wednesday night for Between The World And Me, a visceral, blunt exploration of his experience of being a black man in the United States, which was published this summer in the middle of a national dialogue about race relations and inequality. “Every day, you turn on the TV and see some kind of violence being directed at black people,” he said in an emotional acceptance speech. “Over and over and over again. Among the night’s big winners were Ta-Nehisi Coates and Neal Shusterman, both of whom used their acceptance speeches as an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the social issues that inspired them to write their books. “In the depth of my son’s illness, he said to me, ‘Dad, sometimes it fees like I am at the bottom of the ocean, screaming at the top of my lungs and no one can hear me,’” he said. “Hopefully, this book can open up a dialogue about mental illness, to remove the stigma around mental illness and to show people who are suffering that they are not alone.” Later, Shusterman brought his son Brendan, who inspired his book Challenger Deep, onto the stage with him, telling Brendan that the prize was “yours as much as it is mine.” “At the heart of our country is the notion that we are okay with the presumption that black people somehow have an angle, somehow have a predisposition towards criminality,” said Coates. “I have waited for 15 years for this moment.

And it keeps happening.” The fiction award went to Adam Johnson for Fortune Smiles, a collection of surreal and comic short stories that deal with natural disasters, technology and politics, and these take place in settings ranging from Palo Alto, California, to North Korea. The fiction prize was given to Adam Johnson’s “Fortune Smiles,” an eclectic and edgy story collection set everywhere from the former East Germany to a Louisiana community reeling from Hurricane Katrina. His fiction counterpart, Adam Johnson, took a slightly different tone when accepting the award for his short story collection Fortune Smiles. “I told my wife and my kids, ‘Don’t come across America because this is not going to happen,’” joked Johnson, who lives in California. The judges called him “one of the most talented writers of his generation” and called his stories by turns “surprising, wondrous, comic and devastating”.

Monitor reviewer Chris Hartman called “Between” “a highly provocative, thoughtfully presented, and beautifully written narrative concerning his own misgivings about the ongoing racial struggle in America.” Writer Neal Shusterman won the young people’s literature prize for his book “Challenger Deep,” which tells the story of a teenager who is diagnosed with schizophrenia and the interaction of his hallucinations and his real life. “Voyage of the Sable Venus” by Robin Coste Lewis took the poetry prize for the year. “Smiles” taking the prestigious fiction prize is unusual, as short story collections don’t often take the award. The first annual awards of the prestigious prize were held in 1950, and have honored now house-hold names like William Faulkner, Philip Roth, and Joyce Carol Oates. Alexander wrote. “Initially I was enthralled by Coates’s characteristic brilliance and insight, as well as the poetic manner in which he addresses his son. . . . Johnson’s collection of dark, discomfiting short stories “feature characters reeling from displacement, dislocation or emotional and cultural vertigo,” says The New York Times. Although his novel The Orphan Master’s Son earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2013, Johnson was something of a surprise win, edging out favourites like Hanya Yanagihara for A Little Life and Lauren Groff for Fates and Furies.

He dedicated the award to his college friend, Prince Jones, who was shot to death by a police officer who mistook him for a criminal. “I can’t secure the safety of my son. The young people’s literature prize went to Neal Shusterman’s “Challenger Deep,” inspired by the struggles with mental illness endured by his then-adolescent boy, whom Shusterman brought to the stage.

Johnson’s award follows the Pulitzer Prize he received for his previous work, “The Orphan Master’s Son.” Both were edited by David Ebershoff, a longtime Random House executive who is leaving for a full-time writing career. The award ceremony, held Wednesday evening in New York City, also honoured Don DeLillo for distinguished contribution to American letters, while James Patterson was awarded for outstanding service to the American literary community. He raises numerous critically important questions that are left unanswered.” In The Times, Michiko Kakutani called the book “powerful and passionate,” a “searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today.” She also wrote of the “Manichaean tone to some of the passages in this book, and at times, a hazardous tendency to generalize.” Mr. Slate calls it “a love letter written in a moral emergency.” The intensely personal nature of Coates’ short book stands in contrast to his deeply historical journalistic work.

Many people struggle to find the time to engage with a full-length novel when they’re dealing with emails every second of every day or having to meet deadlines or rush home to put the kids to bed. His memoir has been so central to the national conversation on race and police brutality that the publisher pushed the release date up three months in light of the continuing protests over Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and others.

The New Yorker remarks on her tight lyrical form: “Lewis’s technique returns the humanity to these anonymous women, which, in turn, makes the objects depicting them feel like examples of, and even instruments of, real historical violence.” Shusterman’s arresting novel is about high school student Caden Bosch’s slow descent into schizophrenia. Fiction judges had highlighted five works with contemporary settings, touching upon everything from race and class in Angela Flournoy’s Detroit-based “The Turner House” to the chronicle of marriage in Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies” to the economy in Karen E. As friends and family gather anxiously around him, they watch Bosch drift in and out of a hallucinated journey to reach the real-life deepest point on Earth, called Challenger Deep. He has waited 15 years, he says, because “when Prince Jones died, there were no cameras, there was nobody looking”, and so the police officer went unpunished.

Bender’s story collection “Refund.” Flournoy, in an email sent earlier in the week, observed that fiction “grants us access to lives and experiences that are different from our own, but it also shows the ways in which human experience has commonalities.” “Fiction makes it clear that while the particulars of our lives vary, we’re all dealing with the same sorts of emotions, the same desires to be loved and seen and heard,” she wrote. Kirkus writes of the prolific YA author’s latest, “Nothing is romanticized—just off-kilter enough to show how easily unreality acquires its own logic and wit.” Now, with the ubiquity of cameras and video recording, the world is watching at large – and also watching are the gatekeepers of literary prestige, who have decided to throw their weight behind this issue. Johnson is “holding the reader at arm’s length.” She concluded that the stories “may be best appreciated when taken out into the sunshine one by one, each allowed to exist as an individual text and left to resonate until the reader forgets the previous story enough to allow the next to speak its piece in full. Doctorow and James Salter, ruminating about the shelves down the hall from where he writes and listing not just the books but their publishers and list prices. (50 cents for Dostoevsky’s “The House of the Dead,” a Dell paperback from 1959.) “Here are the shelves with the old paperbacks, books still in their native skin,” he said. “And when I visit the room I’m not the writer who has just been snaking his way through some sentences on a sheet of paper, curled into an old typewriter.

Though short stories are generally seen as a hard sell, Fortune Smiles is the second consecutive story collection, after Phil Klay’s Redeployment, to take home the prize. In his acceptance speech, he joked about his outsider status as a commercial author in elite literary company, calling himself the “Big Mac at Cipriani”.

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