In a virtual conference, which replaced the traditional black-tie dinner at a luxurious Manhattan restaurant because of the pandemic, the US National Book Foundation announced on Wednesday night the ruling of the annual call for its awards, the National Book Award, which together with the Booker are the most important literary awards in the Anglo-Saxon field. In this edition, which makes number 71, 1,692 titles were presented; of the 25 finalists, a third were newcomers, half of them published in independent publishers.
The prize in the fiction category went to Charles Yu and his novel Interior Chinatown. The jury appreciated both the structure, in the form of a script, and the irreverent satire with which Yu, a lawyer who left the law to dedicate himself to writing, dismantles racial stereotypes through the figure of an Asian-American actor who tries to overcome the cliché of the roles of delivery man or obedient henchman in the ruthless world of Hollywood. The jury has highlighted Yu’s “wonderful inventiveness”, and the “at times hilarious, at times heartbreaking” tone of the story. Interior Chinatown is the fourth novel by Yu, who in 2007 was considered one of the five most promising writers under 35 in the country.
“I can’t feel my body now, I think I’m going to melt,” Yu said excitedly during his impromptu award acceptance speech, adding that he was so sure that he wasn’t going to be the winner that he hadn’t prepared any speech. The coldness of the virtual call, which nevertheless attracted a greater number of spectators – the traditional dinner at the Cipriani on Wall Street in previous editions only attracts 700 chosen ones – was partially offset by Yu’s genuine surprise.
In the non-fiction category, the brothers Les and Tamara Payne were recognized for The Dead are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, a monumental biography of the black leader whose documentation his father had begun to compile. “This is a really bittersweet moment,” Tamara Payne said upon receiving the award, “I would like so much that my father was here right now. Veteran crime novel writer Walter Mosley received the award for his entire literary career, becoming the first black author to obtain it in the category’s 32 years of existence. As in previous editions, there were also recognitions in the modalities of juvenile literature, translation and poetry.
The strength of small, independent or university publishing houses, says the newspaper The New York Times, is particularly striking in a terrible year in terms of dissemination and sales, darkened by the pandemic and crushing competition from electronic commerce, and in which only the large publishers have seen their sales increase 7% compared to 2019, while thousands of Small bookstores have been forced to close due to the stagnation of the economy, as the country plunges into a second wave that has already killed 250,000 people. The example of the mythical New York bookstore The Strand, an institution with almost a century of life whose survival is in danger due to the drop in sales, is defining of the crisis that the sector is going through.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.