When you think books, you might not think Wall Street. But last night in New York’s financial district, authors and industry luminaries, clad their best black tie attire, gathered at Cipriani for the 2018 National Book Awards, also known as the Oscars of the book industry.
Hosted by Nick Offerman, the evening marked the 69th anniversary of the awards (and yes, even at the literary event par excellence, jokes about this number found their way to the podium courtesy one Mr. Offerman).
Join us live for the 69th National Book Awards, hosted by Nick Offerman! Tune in for the biggest night in books, where we’ll find out who will take home this year's National Book Awards!
Posted by National Book Foundation on Wednesday, November 14, 2018
The first two awards of the night, presented as lifetime achievement honors, went to Doron Weber, for “Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community,” and to Isabel Allende, who received the “Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters,” making Allende the first Spanish-language author to earn the distinction.
After a brisk dinner, the most anticipated event of the ceremony — the naming of the five committee-selected award winners — began, with Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Poet X” taking the prize for young people’s literature; Yoko Twada’s “The Emissary,” translated by Margaret Mitsutani, receiving the award for translation, a category revived this year for this first time since 1983; and Justin Phillip Reed’s collection “Indecency” receiving the poetry honors.
Jeffrey C. Stewart won the nonfiction prize for his biography, “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke,” and Sigrid Nunez took home the fiction award for her book “The Friend,” making her the 18th woman to win the storied prize.
While all of the speeches can be watched in full above, we’ve selected some of our favorite quotes from the host and each of the prize winners below.
Master of Ceremonies
In our inexorable pursuit of freedom and human rights, books serve us as weapons and also as shields. They are perhaps the greatest creation of humankind, one that is living, ever-growing and always learning.
“The Friend,” by Sigrid Nunez
I became a writer not because I was seeking community, but rather because I thought it was something I could do alone and hidden in the privacy of my own room. How lucky to have discovered that writing books made the miraculous possible — to be removed from the world and a part of the world at the same time. And tonight, how happy I am to feel like a part of the world.
“The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke,” by Jeffrey C. Stewart
When I stand here, I think about his achievement, and what that was was to create a family among writers and artists and dancers and dramatists and call them the “New Negro.” The basis for a new creative future, not just for black people, a “New Negro” for new America. Thank you, Alain Locke.
“Indecency,” by Justin Phillip Reed
What’s next? I want to feel a fullness; to love the vast proliferation of voices and blurred countenances that have made it possible for me and for you with me to have libraries; to realize the tremendous intersection of lives and languages that a single one of those voices and faces represents and how recognizing each of the lives beyond those in fact magnifies each of us. That could be so joyful.
“The Emissary,” by Yoko Tawada, translated from the Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani
Translation gives a book wings to fly across national borders.
(Read by Monique Truong, accepting on behalf of Yoko Twada)
Young People’s Literature Winner
“The Poet X,” by Elizabeth Acevedo
I walk through the world with a chip on my shoulder. I go into so many spaces, where I have to prove that I am allowed in that space. As the child of immigrants, as a black woman, as a Latina, as someone whose accented voice holds certain neighborhoods, whose body holds certain stories. I always feel like I have to prove that I am worthy enough.
And there will never be an award or an accolade that will take that away. That is how I walk through the world.
But every single time I meet a reader, who looks at me and says, “I have never seen my story until I read yours,” I am reminded of why this matters. And that it’s not going to be an award and it’s not going to be an accolade, but it’s going to be looking somebody in the face and saying I see you and in return being told that I am seen.
Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Recipient
For those without roots in a place, memory is essential to maintain a sense of continuity. Nobody witnesses the length of our lives. We need to remember.
And what would a writer do without an acute sense of the past? Without an obsession with memory?
I don’t know how much of my memory is actual fact and how much I have invented. Maybe I remember what never happened.
Memory is subjective. It is conditioned by emotion and belief.
Our own story is also subjective. We choose what to highlight and what to ignore or forget. We select the adjectives to describe our journey, and in doing so, we create our own legend.
Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community Recipient
My secret is that I fulfill the dreams of hundreds of writers because I share those dreams.