Ta-Nehisi Coates and Adam Johnson Among 2015 National Book Award Winners

by Melissa Ragsdale

Last night, the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 66th Annual National Book Awards. In nonfiction, Ta-Nehisi Coates won for Between the World and Me. In fiction, Adam Johnson won for his short story collection Fortune Smiles. In poetry, Robin Coate Lewis won for Voyage of the Sable Venus. In young people’s literature, Neal Shusterman won for Challenger Deep. James Patterson received the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community and Don DeLillo received the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

Fiction Winner: Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles

Fiction finalists: Karen E. Bender, Refund; Angela Fourney, The Turner House; Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies; Hanya Yanagibara, A Little Life

This is the second year in a row that the fiction medal has been awarded to a short story collection. “I think the short story is a machine, and it has lots of gears that turn: voice, style, architecture, chronology, scene selection,” Johnson said in his acceptance speech. “I think they’re difficult, but they can be very perfect and powerful — I missed them, working on a novel for many years.”

Nonfiction winner: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Nonfiction finalists: Sally Mann, Hold Still; Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus; Carla Power, If the OCeans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Quaran; Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light

“I’m a black man in America. I can’t punish that officer…I can’t secure the safety of my son. I can’t go home and tell him at night that ‘It’s going to be okay, you’re not definitely not going to end up like Prince Jones.’ I just don’t have that right. I just don’t have that power, “ Coates said in his acceptance speech, “But what I do have the power to do is to say, ‘You won’t enroll me in this lie. You won’t make me part of it.’ And that was what we did with Between the World and Me.”

Poetry finalists: Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude; Terrance Hayes, How to be Drawn; Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things; Patrick Phillips, Elegy for a Broken Machine

Voyage of Sable Venus was Lewis’ first book. In her acceptance speech, she thanked her teachers first, saying “In my own mind, I have fashioned countless statues of writers who have honored me with their attention and time…Their exquisite generosity is one of the reasons I am standing here tonight.”

Young People’s Literature winner: Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep

Young People’s Literature finalists: Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish; Laura Ruby, Bone Gap; Steve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Elsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War; Noelle Stevenson, Nimona

Challenger Deep is inspired by Shusterman’s own son, Brendan’s, experiences with mental illness. During his acceptance speech, Shusterman recounted that “In the depth of his illness [Brendan] told me, ‘Sometimes it feels like I’m at the bottom of the ocean screaming at the top of my lungs and no one can hear me.’ ”At the end of Shusterman’s acceptance speech, he pulled Brendan on stage to share the spotlight.

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