Tess Gunty and Imani Perri get top honors at the National Book Awards

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NEW YORK (AP) — Tess Gunty’s “The Rabbit Hutch,” a rousing debut novel set in a low-income residential community in Indiana, won the National Book Award for fiction. Thirty-year-old Gunty was among three writers nominated for their first published books.

The award for non-fiction went to Imani Perry’s “South to America” and Sabaa Tahir’s “All My Rage” won for children’s literature. In poetry, John Keene was cited for “Punks: New and Selected Poems,” while Argentine-Spanish-language author Samanta Schweblin and translator Megan McDowell won for Best Translation Work for “Seven Empty Houses.”

Wednesday night’s winners were each awarded $10,000.

Tess Gunty’s novel “The Hutch” won the 2022 National Book Award for fiction. The non-fiction award went to Imani Perry’s book “South to America”.

National Book Foundation/Youtube

In his acceptance speech, Gunty cited recent comments made by poetry candidate Sharon Olds about the essential role of literature in society. Gunty called the books a pathway to call attention to those “overlooked” and otherwise unseen.

“Attention is the most sacred resource we have,” he said, calling books among the last places “where we spend the resource freely and need it most.”

“I think kindness wins,” he concluded. “That’s the point of this evening.”

The story was on the minds of many of the award winners, whether it was honorary medalist Art Spiegelman’s references to her Holocaust-surviving parents or Imani Perry’s invoked ancestors who had been “lashed” and “ridden by bullets.” A tearful Tahir cited her background as a Muslim and Pakistani-American and dedicated her award to her “Muslim sisters” around the world “who are fighting for their lives.”

Several speakers mentioned the current wave of book bans and the threat to freedom of expression. Spiegelman, whose Holocaust comic book “Maus” was pulled from shelves this year in Missouri and Tennessee, called some of his reviewers “shrewd salesmen” because controversy over his work has boosted sales. He then wondered if some educators simply preferred a “kinder, kinder Holocaust.”

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The benefit dinner for the National Book Foundation, which presents the awards, also included an honorary award for Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association. Hall recalled her childhood trips with her grandmother to the local library in the Watts section of Los Angeles, a building she likened to a cathedral and benefactor that allowed her to borrow all the books she and her her grandmother could carry.

He then paid tribute to the librarians who now “resisting the efforts of censorship have sacrificed their jobs and livelihoods”.

It was the first time since 2019 – before the pandemic – that the event had been held in person, and hundreds, virtually all maskless, gathered at Cipriani Wall Street in midtown Manhattan. “Top Chef” author/host Padma Lakshmi hosted the ceremony, which also included taped introductions by Keanu Reeves, Alicia Keys and Jimmy Fallon for the nominees in the competitive categories.

Outside, striking HarperCollins workers handed out flyers and badges – Lakshmi was among those wearing a union badge – outlining their differences with the editor over wages, diversity and union security among other issues. About 250 middle and low-level employees of HarperCollins, the only major New York publisher with a union, went on strike last week. No new interviews are currently scheduled.

Perry, a HarperCollins author, made no direct reference to the strike in her acceptance speech, but cited those who “walk the picket line” as among her inspirations.

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