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The 2023 National Book Awards Winners

By Benedetta Giordani, Grace Briggs-Jones, Clara Garnier-Barsanti, Jamie Fowler and Maria Sadek

The 74th annual National Book Awards took place on the 15 November 2023 and saw five winners in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, translated literature and young people’s literature. The event was hosted by American actor and director, LeVar Burton, with special guest Oprah Winfrey making an appearance. The National Book Awards are overseen by the not-for-profit organisation, the National Book Foundation, established in the late 1980s to celebrate the best of literature published in the United States. Writers such as William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger and Truman Capote have all been awarded with this prestigious prize. Having whittled down the longlists to five nominees in each category, here are the inspiring writers who joined the coveted list of National Book Award winners.

Let’s dive into the winner of the Fiction category: Blackouts by Justin Torres. An intimate, emotionally rich novel in which two men – young and old – reckon with queer histories and their place within them; this novel is a haunting, dreamlike termination on memory and erasure that forces us to look again at the world we have inherited. The judges noted how “Blackouts is a novel of aesthetic complexity, multiplicity, and beauty” and is “a boldly original novel that ultimately becomes an inventive artistic polysemy, inspirational and breathtaking.” Grab a copy while you can! The other finalists were Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Temple Folk by Aaliyah Bilal, This Other Eden by Paul Harding and The End of Drum-Time by Hanna Pylväinen. They certainly deserve a mention and most of all, a read!

Moving onto the Non-fiction winner we have Ned Blackhawk’s The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History. This book has already been making quite the stir in academia given how Blackhawk has refocused the entirety of American history by placing Native Americans at its core. An enlightening and transformative retelling of American history, this monumental study has drawn on decades of scholarship to offer an enduring account of indigenous agency. An incredibly important book and very worthy winner that was up against fierce competition. The finalists in the non-fiction category included Liliana’s Invincible Summer: A Sister’s Search for Justice by Cristina Rivera Garza, Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe and We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: Palestinian Memoir by Raja Shehadeh.

In the Poetry category, our winner was From Unincorporated Territory by Craig Santos Perez, beating out finalists How to Communicate by John Lee Clark, Suddenly We by Evie Shockley and Tripas by Brandon Som. The winning collection is Perez’s fifth book and focuses on the history of his homeland, Guam, using experimental and visual poetry to explore different storytelling techniques in this symbolic and lyrical collection. This book is definitely not one to be missed!

Now let’s dive into the Translated Literature winner, The Words That Remain by Stênio Gardel, translated by Dantas Lobato. This book explores Brazil’s little-known hinterland as well as its urban haunts in a story of repression, violence and shame, along with their flip side: survival, endurance and the ultimate triumph of an unforgettable figure on society’s margins. The judges called this novel “deceptively simple, heartbreakingly honest, and a compelling examination of intimacy in relationships that invites the reader to experience queer desire and survival through new perspectives.” Only 160 pages, this book should be on your to be read list! Worth mentioning are the finalists in this category: Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, Beyond the Door of No Return by David Diop, Abyss by Pilar Quintana and On a Woman’s Madness by Astrid Roemer.

Moving on to the Young People’s Literature category, this year’s winner is A First Time for Everything by Dan Santat. Described by the judges as “earnestly relatable” and “endlessly charming”, this graphic memoir is a coming-of-age story based on Santat’s youth. The book follows the protagonist Dan on a tour of Europe during a class trip, during which a series of first experiences begin to change him, from his first fondue to his first love. Dan Santat is a Caldecott Medal-winning and New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, his previous books include The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend and Are We There Yet? A First Time for Everything is Santat’s second graphic novel, after his debut Sidekicks in 2011.His illustrations are also featured in numerous books, including Dav Pilkey’s Ricky Ricotta series. Interestingly, A First Time for Everything is only the second graphic novel to win the National Book Awards, after the March trilogy by John Lewis, Nate Powell and Andrew Aydin won in 2016.

Having the recognisable gold stamp on the front cover of the book is a hard feat to achieve as this literary prize is among America’s most prestigious. As a reminder of the power of literature’s voice, its ceremony stage has been an ideal scene of political expression for past winners. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners for fuelling our bookshelves with quality!


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