Black Authors rocked the National Book Awards in 2017
The mission of the National Book Foundation and the National Book Awards is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America. Since 1996, independent panels of five writers have chosen the National Book Award winners in four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature.
At this year’s National Book Awards our black writers were very present and very worthy of the recognition.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward Book Description:
“Sing, Unburied, Sing is a road novel turned on its head, and a family story with its feet to the fire. Lyric and devastating, Ward’s unforgettable characters straddle past and present in this spellbinding return to the rural Mississippi of her first book. You’ll never read anything like it.” Ayana Mathis, author of The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner, The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.
Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Book Description: This book is the first to chronicle the lives of African American women in the urban north during the early years of the republic. A Fragile Freedom investigates how African American women in Philadelphia journeyed from enslavement to the precarious status of “free persons” in the decades leading up to the Civil War and examines comparable developments in the cities of New York and Boston. Erica Armstrong Dunbar argues that early nineteenth-century Philadelphia, where most African Americans were free, enacted a kind of rehearsal for the national emancipation that followed in the post-Civil War years. She explores the lives of the “regular” women of antebellum Philadelphia, the free black institutions that took root there, and the previously unrecognized importance of African American women to the history of American cities.
Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems
by Danez Smith
The highly anticipated second collection by Danez Smith?“Hallelujah is an understatement” (Patricia Smith)Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality?the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood?and a diagnosis of HIV positive. “Some of us are killed / in pieces,” Smith writes, “some of us all at once.” Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America?“Dear White America”?where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground
by Rita Williams-Garcia
A National Book Award Longlist title that has earned 5 starred reviews!”This slim novel strikes a strong chord.” — Publishers Weekly (starred review)”This complex tale of family and forgiveness has heart.” — School Library Journal (starred review)”Strong characterizations and vivid musical scenes add layers to this warm family story.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“An appealing, realistic story with frequent elegant turns of phrase.” — The Horn Book (starred review)”Garcia-Williams skillfully finds melody in words.” — Booklist (starred review)From beloved Newbery Honor winner and three-time Coretta Scott King Award winner Rita Williams-Garcia comes a powerful and heartfelt novel about loss, family, and love that will appeal to fans of Jason Reynolds and Kwame Alexander. Clayton feels most alive when he’s with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen — he can’t wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton’s mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that’s no way to live.Armed with his grandfather’s brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.
by Ibi Zoboi
A National Book Award Longlist title with five starred reviews! American Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys.In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture. On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie — a good life. But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own. Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
by Kevin Young
Has the hoax now moved from the sideshow to take the center stage of American culture?Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers?from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump. Bunk traces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.
Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.
Long Way Down
by Jason Reynolds
An ode to Put the Damn Guns Down, this is National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestseller Jason Reynolds’s fiercely stunning novel that takes place in sixty potent seconds — the time it takes a kid to decide whether or not he’s going to murder the guy who killed his brother.
A cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually USED his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator? Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.
And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END if WILL gets off that elevator.
Told in short, fierce staccato narrative verse, Long Way Down is a fast and furious, dazzlingly brilliant look at teenage gun violence, as could only be told by Jason Reynolds.
The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas
Eight Starred Reviews! #1 New York Times Bestseller!”Absolutely riveting!” Jason Reynolds”Stunning.” John Green”This story is necessary. This story is important.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)”Heartbreakingly topical.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)”A marvel of verisimilitude.” Booklist (starred review)”A powerful, in-your-face novel.” The Horn Book (starred review)Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr doesor does notsay could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
A Kind of Freedom: A Novel
by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
A 2017 National Book Award Nominee
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
Chosen as 1 of 12 books to read this August by the Chicago Review of Books
Chosen as 1 of 24 Incredible Books to Add to Your Shelf This Summer by the Huffington Post
Chosen as 1 of 10 Books to Read in August by BBC Culture
“This luminous and assured first novel shines an unflinching, compassionate light on three generations of a black family in New Orleans, emphasizing endurance more than damage.” ?The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War II. Her family inhabits the upper echelon of Black society, and when she falls for no-account Renard, she is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves.
In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Just as she comes to terms with his abandoning the family, he returns, ready to resume their old life.
Jackie’s son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn’t survive the storm. Fresh out of a four-month stint for drug charges, T.C. decides to start over?until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal.
For Evelyn, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. A Kind of Freedom is an urgent novel that explores the legacy of racial disparity in the South through a poignant and redemptive family history.