Ta-Nehisi Coates wins National Book Award for nonfiction

19 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Adam Johnson, Ta-Nehisi Coates Win National Book Awards.

Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, shown at an event in New York in October, has earned widespread praise for his book Between the World and Me, an unflinching address to his teenage son on race and police violence in the U.S. (Anna Webber/Getty Images) Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, a brief, unflinching address to his teenage son on race and police violence that is well on its way to a lasting place in American letters, won the National Book Award for nonfiction Wednesday night. 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. But he was really referring to this moment in America, when police violence against African Americans has become the subject of national demonstrations and debate.

But the real attractions at the 66th annual National Book Awards were the winners themselves: Adam Johnson, in fiction; Ta-Nehisi Coates, in nonfiction; Robin Coste Lewis, in poetry; and Neal Shusterman, in young people’s literature. Johnson, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Orphan Master’s Son, beats frontrunners Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, Karen E. Fifteen years ago, Coates’s friend and Howard University classmate Prince Jones was killed by a police officer who mistook him for a suspect in a gun theft. Every day you turn on the TV and you see some sort of violence being directed at black people,” Coates said, alluding to controversial incidents caught on tape, including the death of Eric Garner, the arrest of Sandra Bland and the killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed man shot and killed in South Carolina this year. EW gave Fortune Smiles a solid “A” upon its release, with critic Leah Greenblatt writing, “Fortune’s six stories are mostly grounded in more familiar settings, but strangeness thrums beneath them all…. every one carves out its own little corner of weird, indelible humanity.”

In a completely surprising outcome, Adam Johnson claimed the award for fiction with his short story collection, “Fortune Smiles.” Johnson, who beat out such favorites as Hanya Yanagihara for “A Little Life” and Lauren Groff for “Fates and Furies,” appeared as stunned as anyone by the victory. “We have to open up and talk about [mental illness] more so we can understand it better, and I hope this book helps to do that,” he said, inviting his son to join him onstage. Coates grew up in West Baltimore, the son of a former Black Panther, publisher and librarian and a teacher. “I wanted to say to the community: “I see your pain, and you’re not crazy.” There’s racism, and then there’s the mind tricks people play on you by telling you that the racism isn’t real.” “I’m not against any one group of people,” he said. “It’s a question of power. In presenting the award to DeLillo, author Jennifer Egan praised his masterful dialogue, “epic” sensibility and the “chutzpah in the sheer range of his books.” She also touched upon a recurring topic throughout the night: the future of books and literature in the digital era.

But at its heart, Coates said in his acceptance, is the memory of his friend, Prince Carmen Jones, who was killed in a police shooting in 2000. “What I do have the power to do is say, ‘You won’t enroll me in this lie. Following a standing ovation, the author of “White Noise,” “Underworld” and “Falling Man” took to the stage and, in brief remarks, spoke of the “the power of memory that a book carries with it.” Calling himself a “grateful reader,” DeLillo paid homage to recently deceased writers including Peter Matthiessen and E.L. He won the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center Prize for Writing to Advance Social Justice for “The Case for Reparations,” his June 2014 cover story in The Atlantic.

Starting next spring, Coates will be writing a new Black Panther series for Marvel Comics, which was originally created in 1966 and featured the first black superhero. A probing look at mental illness, Shusterman’s book was inspired by the struggles of his own son, Brendan, who Shusterman says was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression when he was in his teens.

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. He’s also working with Taylor Branch, David Simon and James McBride on the upcoming HBO series “America in the King Years.” “I think you have to understand that the history of enslavement in this country is older than America itself,” he told The Sun. “It’s older than emancipation. Instead, he described the room down the hallway from his office, where decades-old paperbacks crowd the shelves. “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. Then, he heard Brendan say once: “Sometimes it feels like I’m at the bottom of the ocean, screaming at the top of my lungs and nobody can hear me.” And so, Shusterman said, he set to work on his novel, working together with Brendan to capture and reveal the experience of a teen like him — and to show that others with mental illness are not alone.

Don DeLillo, who received a lifetime achievement medal for his contributions to literature, mourned old friends and ruminated about old books in his speech. The speech capped a night that left behind the fiery rhetoric (and the controversy) of last year’s ceremony, producing instead a series of warmly personal acceptance speeches — including two from longtime literary heavyweights who earned honors early in the night.

As he delivered his speech to those in attendance, those watching remotely had to content themselves with a prepared illustration and the slightly ominous words: “This portion of the broadcast is audio only.” Still, the acclaimed novelist’s husky voice could be heard clearly as he recalled his own reading life.

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