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Jason Mott is among the winners of the 2021 National Book Awards


Winners of the National Book Awards were announced last night in Manhattan and on Zoom. Comedian Phoebe Robinson hosted.


PHOEBE ROBINSON: Thank you so much for being here with us tonight. All your bookshelves look amazing. Your skin is flawless.

KING: NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us about the winners.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: One of them is a member of the family. Librarian Nancy Pearl, a familiar voice to NPR listeners, won an award for outstanding service to the American literary community. Pearl immediately thanked her childhood librarian.


NANCY PEARL, BYLINE: Who took this miserably unhappy 8-year-old girl that I was and gave me the world through the books she recommended. Miss Whitehead showed me that books are places where you can both find yourself and lose yourself.


MALINDA LO: Oh, my God, wow.

ULABY: Author Malinda Lo won the National Book Award for young people's literature. Her novel, "Last Night At The Telegraph Club," is a lesbian love story set in San Francisco's Chinatown during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Lo was emotional in her acceptance speech.


LO: Parts of this novel are in Chinese, and I wouldn't have been able to write them without the help of my parents and my aunt (non-English language spoken) and to my grandmother (non-English language spoken) you may not be in this world anymore, but you are here with me in every book.

ULABY: Lo noted when her first novel came out in 2009, it was among 27 young adult books with LGBT characters. This year, there were hundreds.


LO: The growth has been incredible. But the opposition to our stories has also grown.

ULABY: She ended her acceptance speech with a warning


LO: Don't let them erase us.

ULABY: A lifetime achievement award went to Japanese American novelist Karen Tei Yamashita. And the best translated literature went to a French Korean author, Elisa Shua Dusapin, who was born in 1992.


ELISA SHUA DUSAPIN: (Speaking French).

ULABY: Her book, "Winter In Sokcho," is set in a provincial South Korean vacation town. It was translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins, who shared the prize. The winner in poetry was Martin Espada, and for nonfiction, historian Tiya Miles won the National Book Award for "All That She Carried: The Journey Of Ashley's Sack, A Black Family's Keepsake." Miles talked about the sack, an heirloom that held a few small things an enslaved ancestor managed to pass to her young daughter, earlier this year on WHYY's Fresh Air.


TIYA MLES: (Reading) It held a tattered dress, three handfuls of pecans, a braid of Rose's hair, told her it'd be filled with my love always. She never saw her again.

ULABY: The little girl was only 9. The National Book Award for Fiction went to writer Jason Mott for his novel titled "Hell Of A Book." Mott thanked his agent for picking him out of a slush pile at the beginning of his career, then dedicated his award to all the other mad kids out there.


JASON MOTT: To all the outsiders, the weirdos, the bullied, the ones so strange that had no choice but to be misunderstood by the world and by those around them, the ones who, in spite of this, refuse to outgrow their imagination, refuse to abandon their dreams and refuse to deny, diminish their identity or their truth or their loves.

ULABY: Unlike, he said, so many others. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


FORMER FAT BOYS: (Singing) Read, read a book. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.
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