Tess Gunty and Imani Perry among National Book Awards winners

NEW YORK (AP) — Tess Gunty’s “The Rabbit Hutch,” a high-profile debut novel set in a low-income Indiana housing community, has won the National Book Award for fiction.

NEW YORK (AP) — Tess Gunty’s “The Rabbit Hutch,” a high-profile debut novel set in a low-income Indiana housing community, has won the National Book Award for fiction. Gunty, 30, was among three writers nominated for their first published books.

The non-fiction award went to Imani Perry’s “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” and Sabaa Tahir’s “All My Rage” for Children’s Literature. In poetry, John Keene was cited for “Punks: New and Selected Poems,” while Argentinian-Spanish-language author Samanta Schweblin and translator Megan McDowell won Best Translation Work for “Seven Empty Houses.” .

Wednesday night’s winners each received $10,000.

In his acceptance speech, Gunty cited comments made the day before by poetry nominee Sharon Olds about the essential role of literature as a force for good and for courage. Gunty praised the fiction finalists, which also included Alejandro Varela’s ‘The Town of Babylon’ and Sarah Thankam Mathews’ ‘All This Could Be Different’, for bringing attention to those who are ‘overlooked’ and otherwise invisible.

“Attention is the most sacred resource we have,” she said, calling books places “where we spend the resource freely and need it most.”

“I think kindness wins,” she concluded. “That’s the purpose of this evening.”

History was on the minds of many honorees, whether it was honorary medalist Art Spiegelman’s references to his Holocaust survivor relatives, Perry’s invocation of ancestors who had been “flagellated,” ‘charred’, ‘roped up’ and ‘bullet-riddled’ or Keene’s elegy for the ‘black, gay, queer and trans writers’ who died during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.

Tahir, in tears, cited her background as a Muslim and a Pakistani-American and dedicated her award to her “Muslim sisters” around the world who are “fighting for their lives, their autonomy, their bodies and their right to live and tell their own stories without fear”. .”

Several speakers referred to the current wave of book bans and the threat to freedom of expression. Spiegelman, whose Holocaust-themed cartoon book “Maus” was pulled from shelves this year in Missouri and Tennessee, called some of his censors “savvy marketers” because controversy over his work boosted sales. He then wondered if some educators simply preferred a “kinder, gentler Holocaust.”

The benefit dinner for the National Book Foundation, which awards the prizes, also included an honorary award for Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association. Hall recalled childhood trips with her grandmother to the local library in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, likening the building to a cathedral and a benefactor who allowed her to borrow as many books as she and her grandmother. mother could carry.

She went on to pay tribute to librarians today who “in resisting censorship efforts have sacrificed their jobs and their livelihoods”.

It was the first time since 2019 – before the pandemic – that the event was held in person and hundreds, virtually all without masks, gathered at Cipriani Wall Street in midtown Manhattan. “Top Chef” author and host Padma Lakshmi hosted the ceremony, which also included recorded presentations by Keanu Reeves, Alicia Keys and Jimmy Fallon for the nominees in the competitive categories.

Outside, striking HarperCollins workers handed out leaflets and buttons – Lakshmi and presenter Ibram X. Kendi were among those wearing union buttons – outlining their differences with the publisher over pay, diversity and safety union, among other issues. Some 250 entry-level and mid-level employees at HarperCollins, New York’s only major publisher with a union, began their strike last week. No new discussions are currently planned.

Perry, a HarperCollins author, made no direct reference to the strike in her acceptance speech, but cited those who “walk the picket line” among her inspirations.

Hillel Italy, The Associated Press

Carol N. Valencia