Choi, Broom win National Book Awards
NEW YORK — Susan Choi’s novel “Trust Exercise,” in which a high school romance is spun out into a web of memories and perspectives, has won the National Book Award for fiction.
Sarah M. Broom’s family memoir “The Yellow House” won in nonfiction and Martin W. Sandler’s “1919 The Year That Changed America” for young people’s literature. The winner for best translated book was Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s “Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming,” translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet. In poetry, the winner was Arthur Sze’s “Sight Lines.”
The 70th annual National Book Awards were presented Wednesday night at a dinner benefit gala in downtown Manhattan, with winners each receiving $10,000. Finalists were chosen by panels of authors, critics, booksellers and others in the literary community. Publishers submitted more than 1,700 books for consideration.
Choi expressed gratitude not just for the award, but for the writing life, saying that writing and teaching showed her that the word was “its own reward.” Her other books include the Pulitzer Prize finalist “American Woman” and the PEN/Faulkner finalist “A Person of Interest.”
Other speakers offered emotional tributes to loved ones and cited the written word as a source of healing, action and community in an unsettling world. Kraszahorkai praised his translator, Muzlet, and marveled how the change from one language to another could make one “feel at home in the United States of America.”
Broom singled out her mother for awe and gratitude, remembering how she raised 12 children and absorbed words everywhere from the grocery store to package labels, “always wolfing down words. Insatiable.”
The prolific Sandler is an Emmy-winning television writer who has written dozens of books, and vows to write 60 more. Sze called poetry an “essential language,” helping us all to “slow down, see clearly, feel deeply” and understand what “truly matters.”
Honorary awards were given to Oren Teicher, longtime head of the American Booksellers Association, and Edmund White, the pioneering gay writer. Each celebrated the literary life in their own fashion.
Teicher, introduced warmly by author-bookseller Ann Patchett, spoke of his ever-renewing joy in helping bookstores commit a sacred, timeless “act of magic”: placing the “right book in a reader’s hands.” Teicher will soon step down after a decade as CEO of the independent sellers trade group and quoted W.B. Yeats: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends; and say my glory was I had such friends.”
White was introduced, mischievously, by the filmmaker-author John Waters, who celebrated his longtime friend with dirty jokes, entendres that mean one thing only and high praise for a man who “pissed off” both Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag.
White’s medal is for “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters,” but he was here to dish, joking that a writer’s typical 8-hour “work” day was maybe a half hour of actual writing and otherwise a well-met schedule of gossip, “too many emails,” cooking, pornography and drinking.
“So many writers are alcoholic because they can get away with it,” he said.