hell of a book

2021 National Book Awards Winners: Jason Mott, Tiya Miles

Illustration: Vulture

It’s time to turn off the digital pacifiers — because the winners of the National Book Awards just dropped. Jason Mott won the award for fiction for his novel Hell of a Book, which follows the journey of an African American author’s book tour as it crosses paths with a Black boy in a rural town and possibly an imaginary child. “I would like to dedicate this award to all the other mad kids, to all the outsiders, the weirdos, the bullied,” Mott said in his acceptance speech. “The ones so strange they had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and by those around them. The ones who, in spite of this, refuse to outgrow their imagination, refuse to abandon their dreams, and refuse to deny, diminish their identity, or their truth, or their loves, unlike so many others.”

Tiya Miles won the nonfiction prize for All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. Miles recounts the history of a 19th-century family through a cotton sack, which was given by an enslaved mother to her daughter when they were sold apart.

Miles thanked her editor, Molly Turpin, for supporting her decision to write a book about “an old bag.” “Your face lit up,” Miles said. “You were so curious. You were so receptive. You were the perfect editor for this project.”

The award for translated literature went to Winter in Sokcho, a debut novel by Elisa Shua Dusapin and translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins. The French Korean author reveals the life of a woman working in a tourist town on the border between South and North Korea. Martín Espada’s Floaters, a tribute to the migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande, received the award for poetry. The award for young people’s literature went to Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo. The novel tells the love story of a queer 17-year-old in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the time of the Red Scare.

The Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was awarded to Karen Tei Yamashita, the author of eight books, including the previous National Book Awards finalist I Hotel. The Literarian Award was given to Nancy Peal, an author and librarian working in public-library systems in Detroit, Tulsa, and Seattle.

Below is the complete list of the 2021 National Book Awards winners (in bold) and finalists:

Jason Mott, Hell of a Book
Anthony Doerr, Cloud Cuckoo Land 
Lauren Groff, Matrix 
Laird Hunt, Zorrie
Robert Jones, Jr., The Prophets 

Tiya Miles, All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake
Hanif Abdurraqib, A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance 
Lucas Bessire, Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains
Grace M. Cho, Tastes Like War: A Memoir
Nicole Eustace, Covered With Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America 

Martín Espada, Floaters
Desiree C. Bailey, What Noise Against the Cane 
Douglas Kearney, Sho
Hoa Nguyen, A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure
Jackie Wang, The Sunflower Cast a Spell to Save Us from the Void

Aneesa Abbas Higgins, Elisa Shua Dusapin, Winter in Sokcho
Ge Fei, Canaan Morse, Peach Blossom Paradise
Nona Fernández, Natasha Wimmer, The Twilight Zone 
Benjamín Labatut, Adrian Nathan West, When We Cease to Understand the World 
Samar Yazbek, Leri Price, Planet of Clay 

Malinda Lo, Last Night at the Telegraph Club 
Shing Yin Khor, The Legend of Auntie Po 
Kyle Lukoff, Too Bright to See 
Kekla Magoon, Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People
Amber McBride, Me (Moth)

2021 National Book Awards Winners: Jason Mott, Tiya Miles