The prestigious honor was awarded to four books at the 67th National Book Awards in New York.

By Liz Loerke

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.

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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.”

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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:

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