Books

Jason Mott and Tiya Miles among U.S. National Book Award winners

The National Book Awards recognize the best in American literature in five categories — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young people’s literature and translated literature.
Jason Mott and Tiya Miles are two of the five winners of the 2021 National Book Awards. (Michael Becker Photography, Kimberly P. Mitchell)

Five authors, including Jason Mott and Tiya Miles, have won the 2021 National Book Awards.

The National Book Awards were established in 1950. The annual awards currently recognize the best in American literature in five categories — fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young people's literature and translated literature.

Each winner was awarded $10,000 US ($12,636 Cdn) in prize money.

Mott won the fiction category for Hell of a Book. 

Hell of a Book a satirical take on a Black writer's adventures on the road for a promotional tour — Mott himself had his share of experiences while talking up previous works — and a tale of racial violence and identity. The story draws on recent headlines and the author's childhood.

"I would like to dedicate this award to all the other mad kids, to all the outsiders, the weirdos, the bullied, the ones so strange they had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and those around them," Mott said in his acceptance speech at the award ceremony.

Mott is a New York Times-bestselling author of fiction and poetry. His other books include the debut novel The Returned, The Crossing and The Wonder of All Things. Mott lives in North Carolina.

Miles won the non-fiction category for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake.

All That She Carried captures the lives of three women across generations — Rose, who was enslaved in 1850s South Carolina and packed her daughter in a sack for survival; Ashley, who was separated from her mother and sold at the age of nine; and Ruth, who embroidered this family history on the bag decades later. 

Miles is professor and director at Harvard University. Her other books include Ties That Bind, The Cherokee Rose and The Dawn of Detroit, which won the Frederick Douglass Book Prize.

Malinda Lo's Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo won the young people's literature category. It is a story of same-sex, cross-cultural love set in the 1950s.

Martín Espada won the poetry category for Floaters, which explores themes of migration, family, love, race and the pain of growing up. 

Best translated literature went to Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the French novel by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. Centred around a French Korean woman, it tells the story about shared identities and divided selves, vision and blindness, intimacy and alienation.

The 2021 National Book Awards ceremony took place on the night of Nov. 19.

This year's winners were selected from over 1,800 titles by the jury, which included authors Eula Biss, Ilya Kaminsky and Charles Yu, who won the 2020 National Book Award for fiction for his Interior Chinatown.

The American television and fiction writer discusses his latest novel, winner of the 2020 U.S. National Book Award, an entertaining story about representation, identity and the pursuit of a leading role. 53:44

One of the most prestigious literary prizes in America,The National Book Awards is administered by the National Book Foundation. The Foundation also helps readers read in new and meaningful ways through its educational and public programs.

— With files from Associated Press

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