Home News 2021 National Book Award Winners: Full List

2021 National Book Award Winners: Full List


Jason Mott won the National Book Award for fiction on Wednesday for his novel “Hell of a Book,” an account of an author’s book tour that is intertwined with one focused on a Black boy in the South.

The historian Tiya Miles won the nonfiction prize for “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake,” which 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.

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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. It can boost book sales and transform an author’s profile.

This year’s ceremony was hosted by Phoebe Robinson, a comedian and the founder of Tiny Reparations Books, an imprint at Penguin Random House devoted to diverse voices. Her most recent book, “Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes,” was published in September.

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.

“If there were ever a time that underscored the extraordinary experiences that books provide,” said Ruth Dickey, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, “it has been these past 20 months.”

The finalists for the fiction award included “Matrix,” by Lauren Groff, about an orphaned young woman who transforms a destitute nunnery; “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” by Anthony Doerr, a novel that encompasses several centuries, two continents and one interstellar ship; “Zorrie,” by Laird Hunt, a portrait of a woman’s life in rural Indiana; and “The Prophets,” by Robert Jones Jr., a love story about two enslaved men set on an antebellum plantation.

Nonfiction finalists included “A Little Devil in America,” an essay collection by Hanif Abdurraqib celebrating Black performers and artists; “Running Out,” by Lucas Bessire, about a Kansas aquifer at risk of depletion and its impact on the area’s farmers and ranchers; “Tastes Like War,” a memoir by Grace M. Cho, who cooks family recipes while exploring how war, xenophobia and colonialism are carried in the body; and “Covered With Night,” by Nicole Eustace, about the 18th-century murder case of an Indigenous hunter.

Martín Espada 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.”

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.

The award for young people’s literature went to “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo, which follows a queer 17-year-old in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare as she falls in love for the first time. In her speech, she urged viewers to pay attention to their school boards and vote in local elections. “We need your support to keep our stories on our shelves. Don’t let them erase us,” she said.

The foundation presented two lifetime achievement awards.

Nancy Pearl, an author and librarian who has worked in public library systems in Detroit, Tulsa and Seattle, was the recipient of the Literarian Award, which recognizes service to the American literary community.

Karen Tei Yamashita, the author of eight books, including “Sansei and Sensibility,” “Tropic of Orange” and “Letters to Memory,” received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, an award that has previously gone to Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley and Maxine Hong Kingston. Ms. Yamashita teaches literature and creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“Ideas are dangerous and transformative,” she said in her speech. “Writing, then, is creative work for which we are responsible, accountable. Writing requires our constant care and integrity.”

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