The National Book Award is equivalent to the Oscars of writing. It is the most prestigious honor a writer can receive. On the morning of October 4th, the National Book Foundation announced the 20 finalists for the 2017 National Book Award, and 15 of them – 75 percent – are women.
In the fiction category, four out of the five finalists are women of color, and two are debut authors. However, this encouraging turn is not to be mistaken as a “take over,” as Lisa Lucas, the Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, told Elle. “I think it is so important not to look at this as a taking over, but instead a widening of the table. The table has room for us, too, now. And I hope that we see a shared table for all voices in this country and this world for the foreseeable future.”
There are four categories within this prestigious prize: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature. Each category’s winner receives a medal, as well as $10,000, though the most valuable prize may be the boost of an author’s profile, which keeps their career prominently afloat. 20 independent judges whittle down 1,500 eligible works into the four categories, and then produce a shortlist for the awards ceremony and gala.
Lucas, excited about the inclusion of a wider diversity of voices, gave more of her take on this year’s finalists. “Women and WOC [women of color] have always told stories, and have always won prizes, but now I think it is normalized in the most wonderful of ways,” she said. “When we are not shocked to see women and POC sitting at the table, but understand it as totally normal, we are on our way to a better world and a better, more rounded and realistic, body of literature.”
The National Book Award winners will be announced on November 15th, and the ceremony can be watched through a live stream on the National Book Foundation’s website. Check out this year’s finalists in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people’s literature here.
On the morning of the announcement of the finalists, Lucas posted this wonderful statement: “Reading a book doesn’t always feel like a political act, and doesn’t have to, but I believe that our literature should reflect the real world we live and tell the stories that open our eyes to the diversity of where we live. Throughout history, women and people of color haven’t always been able to control their own narrative, to tell their stories, or find a wider audience when we do.”
She continued, saying, “This list is exciting to me because when we are able to lift up the voices and perspectives of women and people of color—and women of color!— or anyone marginalized we are creating a cultural environment that is richer and more nourishing to all readers. One that pushes back against the status quo in a really productive way.”
Here’s to expanding the narrative, to inspiring all authors, and to affirming the worth of every voice. There is a seat at the table for you, too.
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