Tess Gunty, Imani Perry among National Book Awards winners
NEW YORK — Tess Gunty’s “The Rabbit Hutch,” a sweeping debut novel set in a low-income housing community in Indiana, has won the National Book Award for fiction. The 30-year-old Gunty was among three writers nominated for their first published books.
The nonfiction prize went to Imani Perry’s “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation” and Sabaa Tahir’s “All My Rage” won for young people’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 work in translation for “Seven Empty Houses.”
Wednesday night’s winners each received $10,000.
In her acceptance speech, Gunty cited comments made the day before by poetry nominee Sharon Olds about literature’s essential role as a force for good and for courage. Gunty praised the fiction finalists, which also included Alejandro Varela’s “The Town of Babylon” and Sarah Thankam Mathews’ “All This Could Be Different,” for bringing attention to those “neglected” and otherwise not visible.
“Attention is the most sacred resource we have,” she said, calling books among the last places “where we spend the resource freely and need the most.”
“I think kindness wins,” she concluded. “That’s the point of this evening.”
History was on the minds of many of the award winners, whether honorary medalist Art Spiegelman’s references to his parents surviving the Holocaust, Perry’s invocation of ancestors who had been “lashed,” “charred,” “roped” and “bullet-ridden” or Keene’s elegy for “Black, gay, queer and trans writers” who died during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.
A tearful Tahir cited her background as a Muslim and Pakistani-American and dedicated her prize to her “Muslim sisters” around the world who “fight for their lives, their autonomy, their bodies and their right to live and tell their own stories without fear.”
It was the first time since 2019 — before the pandemic — that the event was held in person.