New York (AP) – Tamara Payne and her father the late Les Payne’s Malcolm X biography, “The Dead Are Arising,” has won the National Book Award for nonﬁction.
Charles Yu’s “Interior Chinatown” was cited for ﬁction and Kacen Callender’s “King and the Dragonflies” for young people’s literature. The poetry prize went to Don Mee Choi’s “DMZ Colony” and the winner for best translated work was Yu Miri’s “Tokyo Ueno Station,” translated from Japanese by Morgan Giles. Honorary medals were given Wednesday night to mystery novelist Walter Mosley and to the late CEO of Simon & Schuster, Carolyn Reidy, who died in May at age 71. The children’s author and current US Youth Ambassador for young adult literature Jason Reynolds served as emcee, and along with Bob Woodward and Walter Isaacson was among the Simon & Schuster writers who appeared in a taped tribute to Reidy.
Because of the pandemic, one of publishing’s most high-proﬁle gatherings was streamed online, with presenters and winners speaking everywhere from New York to Japan. The traditional dinner ceremony is the nonproﬁt National Book Foundation’s most important source of income and is usually held at Cipriani Wall Street, where publishers and other ofﬁcials pay thousands of dollars for tables or individual seats. The foundation instead has been asking for donations of $50 or more. As of Wednesday evening, just over $490,000 had been pledged from 851 donors.
Along with the pandemic and the presidential election, diversity has been an ongoing theme in the book world this year and remained so Wednesday night, from publishers being urged to transform a historically white industry to the winners themselves.
Yu’s novel is a sendup of Chinese stereotypes and of the immigrants’ conflict between wanting to assimilate and asserting their true selves. Mosley, the ﬁrst Black man to win the medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, spoke of his debt to such literary heroes as Ishmael Reed, John Edgar Wideman and Ralph Ellison.
The award for “The Dead Are Arising” is the second time in a decade a Malcolm X biography has received a high honor for nonﬁction and the second time the honor was, at least in part, posthumous. The scholar Manning Marable died right before the 2011 publication of “Malcolm X,” which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and receive a National Book Award nomination. Les Payne, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, died in 2018.
“This is such a bittersweet moment,” Tamara Payne said upon accepting the award Wednesday night. “I really wish my father was here for this.”