Annual National Book Awards celebrates exceptional pieces of literature



The 72nd National Book Awards celebrated some of the most extraordinary literature published in the last year.

The 72nd National Book Awards was live-streamed on YouTube on Nov. 17 at 7 p.m., hosted by stand-up comedian, actress and writer Phoebe Robinson.

Since 1950, the Awards have been held annually by the National Book Foundation to recognize remarkable pieces of literature published in the last year and outstanding individuals making an impact in the literary community. On Nov. 12, the Foundation hosted the National Book Awards Teen Press Conference during which the finalists for the Young People’s Literature award read an excerpt from their novels.

In English teacher Evan Mousseau’s freshman classes, students read four of the five nominated Young Adult novels over the course of one month. On Nov. 17, teams of students decided which of the four deserved to win based on criteria they formulated at the start of the unit, developing “Judges Citations” that describe the appeals of their chosen book.

The much-awaited Young People’s Literature award was given to author Malinda Lo for her book Last Night at the Telegraph Club, chosen from five finalists.

Lo said her novel represents the growing inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters in literature, though this change has come with some criticism.

“When my first novel came out in 2009, it was one of 27 young adult books about LGBTQ characters or issues published that year,” Lo said. “This year, hundreds of these books have been published. The growth has been tremendous but the opposition to our stories has also grown.”

One group in Mousseau’s classes selected Last Night at the Telegraph Club as the winner, appreciating its attention on topics often unread for young readers such as Chinese exclusion and the dread of communism.

Freshmen Maxm Thompson, Vishnu Urs, Eddie Man and Emil Larson wrote that the novel “faces the realities of lesbian culture back in 1950s San Francisco” while taking readers through a “thrilling journey.”

The first award of the night was that of the Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, which was presented to librarian and author Nancy Pearl. As the first librarian to win the award, Pearl said that she dedicated her win to all other librarians and was extremely grateful to have been selected.

Acclaimed author Viet Thanh Nguyen presented the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters to Japanese-American author Karen Tei Yamashita, recognizing the importance of diversity in literature.

National Book Awards were also given to Elisa Shua Dusapin for Winter in Sochko in the Translated Literature category, Martín Espada for Floaters in the Poetry category, Tiya Alicia Miles for All That She Carried in the nonfiction category and Jason Mott for Hell of a Book in the fiction category.

The annual National Book Awards serves as a major fundraiser for the National Book Foundation.

National Book Foundation Board Chair David Steinberger said the ceremony is vital for the continuation of the organization’s efforts.

“The foundation’s mission, and it is a great mission, is to celebrate the best literature in America, expand its audience and ensure that books have a prominent place in American culture,” Steinberger said.

The National Book Foundation will host a virtual discussion with the 2021 award winners on Nov. 20 that can be viewed via a Zoom webinar.