The National Book Awards took place this past Wednesday night, and in a surprise win, underdog contender James McBride received the fiction award for his novel, The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead). The novel tells the story of a 103-year-old black man who claims to have pretended to be a girl in order to served with abolitionist John Brown. McBride’s previous books include Song Yet Sung, and his incredible memoir, The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.
Earlier this year, Booklist compared McBride to Larry McMurtry and William Styron, saying he “presents a sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967).” He uses “the savvy but scared innocent to bring a fresh immediacy to this sobering chapter in American history.”
In the nonfiction category, New Yorker staff writer George Packer won for The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (FSG). You can read an interview with Packer and his editor, Alex Star, here. FSG also posted “Mash-up Notes” to the book–collages of headlines, slogans, and songs that capture the flow of events in the years Packer writes about, from the Bush Doctrine to Justin Bieber. (The mash-up notes are both interesting and a boon for any high schooler who needs a cheat-sheet for a paper on recent 21st century political happenings!) The book itself has garnered much remarkable praise, in addition to this week’s award.
The poetry award went to Mary Szybist for Incarnadine (Graywolf Press). You can read a sampling of Szybist’s work on the Poetry Foundation’s website–you could start with the beautiful “Knocking or Nothing“. Slate called this collection “a mix of good manners and postmodern invention”.
Finally, the award for young people’s literature was given to Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata for The Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/S&S). In the young adult novel, 12-year-old Summer Miyamoto’s parents have gone to Japan to care for three dying relatives. As they leave, it is harvest time at home, and since their family makes their living working the wheat fields of the Midwest, Summer, her 10-year-old brother, Jaz, and her grandparents head off to work as “wheaties.” Jaz has been diagnosed with ADHD, PDD-NOS and OCD, and his biggest fear is that he’ll never have a friend. As Shelf Awareness put it, “Summer’s kindness toward him wins out over her impatience with him. Her accumulation of wisdom through the harvest season results in an ending that sneaks up on readers in its impact and poignancy.”
Congratulations to all the winners, their agents and publishers.
Winners photo c/o nationalbook.org