Martín Espada’s “Floaters” wins National Book Award for Poetry

Puerto Rican writer and professor Martín Espada (bottom left in the photo above) won the award for poetry for Floaters, a book that honors migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande. Judges said it was “vital for our times and will be vital for those in the future, trying to make sense of today.”

Jason Mott won the National Book Award for fiction for his novel Hell of a Book, Tiya Miles won the nonfiction prize for All That She Carried, Elisa Shua Dusapin won the award for Winter in Sokcho for translated literature (translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins), and Karen Tei Yamashita received a lifetime achievement award. The National Book Award is one of the most closely watched literary prizes in the world, previously awarded to luminaries such as William Faulkner, W.H. Auden and Ralph Ellison. Here are excerpts from an article by Elizabeth A. Harris (The New York Times).

Jason Mott won the National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday for his novel “Hell of a Book,” an account of a Black author’s book tour intertwined with one focused on a Black boy in the rural South and a third character, The Kid, who may be imaginary.

Mr. Mott, who said that his agent had picked his work out of the unsolicited “slush” pile 10 years ago, is a poet and the author of three novels in addition to “Hell of a Book.” “I would like to dedicate this award to all the other mad kids, to all the outsiders, the weirdos, the bullied,” he said in his speech. “The ones so strange they had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and by those around them. The ones who, in spite of this, refuse to outgrow their imagination, refuse to abandon their dreams and refuse to deny, diminish their identity, or their truth, or their loves, unlike so many others.”

The historian Tiya Miles won the nonfiction prize for “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.” The book traces the history of a family through a cotton sack that an enslaved woman gave to her daughter in the 19th century when they were about to be sold apart.

The judges called it “a brilliant, original work,” examining a compilation of lives “that ordinary archives suppress.” Dr. Miles, a professor at Harvard University, was awarded a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2011. [. . .]

This was the second annual National Book Awards ceremony held remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, with Ms. Robinson recording from the Penguin Random House headquarters in New York City and authors and presenters beaming in remotely. In years past, hundreds of attendees celebrated at a black-tie gala at Cipriani Wall Street.

[. . .] The award for translated literature went to “Winter in Sokcho,” a debut novel by Elisa Shua Dusapin and translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins that is set at a South Korean resort.

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