The prestigious honor was awarded to four books at the 67th National Book Awards in New York.
The 67th annual National Book Awards were announced November 16 in New York City. Four awards were presented for the categories of fiction, nonfiction, young people’s literature and poetry to celebrate the art of writing. Authors were honored with a statue, $10,000, and the distinction of being deemed the four best American books of the year, alongside past winners that include the likes of William Faulkner, John Updike, Alice Walker, Jonathan Franzen, and Annie Proulx.
In a year plagued by racial tensions, the National Book Foundation honored three books that explored the complicated history of racism in America. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which reimagines the flight from slavery as an actual railroad, took home the coveted National Book Award for fiction. Ibram X. Kendi won the nonfiction prize for Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. And the graphic memoir about the Civil Rights Movement March: Book Three, written by U.S. Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell, earned the honor of best young people’s literature. In the poetry category, winner Daniel Borzutzky explored the nature of borders in The Performance of Becoming Human.
RELATED: The Best New Books to Read This Month
While many of the books explored the bleakest moments in American history, the authors remained hopeful in their acceptance speeches. “I just want to let everyone know that I spent years looking at the absolute worst of America,” Kendi said while accepting the nonfiction prize. “I never lost faith that the terror of racism would one day end; in the midst of the human ugliness of racism, there is the human beauty of the resistance to racism.”
RELATED: 14 Books and Movies to Teach Kids About Empathy
Throughout the ceremony, winners and presenters emphasized the power of books to cultivate empathy and understanding. Through reading we can cross the lines that divide.
Here are the four winners of the 2016 National Book Awards:
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
As a young boy, Colson Whitehead mistook the Underground Railroad as a literal subterranean locomotive. He fostered that idea and turned it into an exploration of American history. Sixteen years in the making, this novel follows two slaves who ride the train in a perilous search for freedom.
To buy: $16, amazon.com.
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi
As relevant as ever, Ibram Kendi’s comprehensive study follows the threads of racism as they weave throughout American history. Kendi uses five main people to investigate the development of racist ideas in this country: the preacher and intellectual Cotton Mather, Founding Father and president Thomas Jefferson, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, and activist Angela Davis. By examining these key players, Kendi demonstrates how and why some of the most famous proslavery and pro-civil rights thinkers have both challenged and cemented racist ideas in America.
To buy: $22.50, amazon.com.
YOUNG PEOPLE'S LITERATURE
March: Book Three, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
The third book in a series of graphic memoirs, March: Book Three tells the story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of activist and Georgia Congressman John Lewis. This final installment begins with the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama and culminates with the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, during which Lewis was badly beaten on the march’s “Bloody Sunday.” Nate Powell’s high-contrast black-and-white illustrations underscore the emotional intensity of the story and bring familiar historical characters to life.
To buy: $13.50, amazon.com.
The Performance of Becoming Human, by Daniel Borzutzky
In this bleak and dystopian book of poetry, Daniel Borzutzky draws connections between the U.S. and Latin America (in particular, Chicago and Chile, two places that have shaped his own identity) to explore issues such as border and immigration policies, political violence, and economic disparity.
To buy: $17, amazon.com.