Today, the National Book Foundation announced the winners of the 2016 National Book Awards.
It’s no surprise that Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad took the top honors for fiction. Since even before his first novel, 1999’s The Intuitionist, Whitehead has been making waves in literary circles. His articles and essays for the New York Times, The New Yorker, and Harper’s along with his six novels and two non-fiction books are wildly respected. They vary in genre, subject matter, and style, but Whitehead’s interests come through. All of his writing touches on themes of pop culture, technology, city living, and the African American experience in America.
With the Underground Rairoad, Whitehead has had his breakout success. The book tells the story of a runaway slave on an underground railroad that is in no way metaphorical. Its a literal network of train tunnels and tracks with conductors and engineers who help slaves escape to the North. While the America depicted in the story is an imaginary one, Whitehead’s ruminates on the violent history of slavery in America that was all too real.
The book has been on all the recommended books lists with everyone from President Obama and Oprah recommending it.
The winners in the other categories are no less distinguished. The nonfiction book, Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi is subtitled The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Kendi argues that the only way to move past racism in America is to understand where it comes from. Chicago poet Daniel Borzutzky won for his collection The Performance of Becoming Human which confronts the ways that nations and bureaucracies destroy local communities. Volume three of the graphic novel series March won the Young People’s Award. Written by Georgia Representative and civil rights activist John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell, March encourages readers to understand the American civil rights movement, its philosophies of nonviolence, and its lesson to speak out when things are not just.