National Book Awards highlight Minneapolis publishing scene
Gabriel Benson, Copy Editor
“What can I say, [books] make me horny,” said “Parks and Recreation” star Nick Offerman, host of the 2018 National Book Awards. This year’s NBAs took place at the Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan and showcased books and stories from all around the world — from Japan to Peru, the awards ceremony focused on the importance of books in dark times.
“In an age where our first amendment rights and truth itself are very much in peril, books remain the ultimate repository of creative ideas and irreplaceable knowledge,” said Offerman. This sentiment was reflected in the evenings, main theme of the integrity of literature in its pursuit to show the truth of the human condition.
“Indecency” by Justin Phillip Reed won in the poetry category, which was published by the Minneapolis-based Coffee House Press. Reed’s poems experiment with language and test the boundaries of what poetry traditionally looks like on the page as he tackles subjects of white supremacy, inequity and racial injustice.
“The Poet X” by slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo was the winner in the young people’s literature category, a category which has been around only since 1996. “The Poet X” is a novel-in-verse about Afro-Latina Xiomara Batista trying to find the power her voice has she grows up and becomes a poet in Harlem.
The NBA for translated literature has not been given out since 1983 since the categories of NBA are almost always shifting and changing. This year, however, the award is given to “The Emissary” by Yoko Tawada (originally written in Japanese), translated by Margaret Mitsutani. “The Emissary” takes place in a not-so-distant future where children are born elderly and the elderly are the only people keeping society going. Written with humor, this novel is meant to show us how we can learn from our elders and how we can enjoy youth, no matter how old we are.
The winner of the nonfiction category was “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke” by Jeffrey Stewart. Stewart showcases the iconic life of Alain Locke, the Ezra Pound of the Harlem Renaissance, mentoring authors such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Jacob Lawrence. Locke, the first African American Rhodes Scholar, was the forefather of what he coined as the New Negro, a generation of African American artists mainly located in Harlem, in order to shape a piece of the American literary canon.
Perhaps the most highly anticipated award of the NBAs, or any book award for that matter, is the fiction category; it’s like the best-picture category at the Oscars. This year, the award went to “The Friend” by Sigrid Nunez. This novel is the story of a woman whose best friend unexpectedly dies and leaves his dog, a burly Great Dane, to the protagonist. What starts out as a rocky relationship turns into a loving one that borders on the magical as the dog and the protagonist begin to share a telepathic connection.
The after-party of the NBAs was planned by Wordplay Director Steph Opitz of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. The party gave the writers, agents and publicists a rare chance to let their hair down and tear it up on the dance floor.
This article was originally published in the Nov. 30, 2018 issue.