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On Wednesday night, Jesmyn Ward stood before a room of authors, editors, and booksellers to accept the National Book Award for fiction.

“Throughout my career, when I have been rejected, there was sometimes subtext, and it was this: People will not read your work because these are not universal stories,” Ward told the crowd. “I don’t know whether some doorkeepers felt this way because I wrote about poor people or because I wrote about Black people or because I wrote about Southerners. As my career progressed and I got some affirmations, I still encountered that mindset every now and again. … You looked at me, at the people I love and write about, you looked at my poor, my Black, my Southern children, women and men—and you saw yourself. You saw your grief, your love, your losses, your regrets, your joy, your hope.”

Ward walked away with a $10,000 prize in honor of her latest work—Sing, Unburied, Sing—which also made Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 of 2017.

Ward wasn’t the only one to go home with an honor. Masha Gessen, Frank Bidart, and Robin Benway also took home prizes, along with each nominated finalist, who walked away with a bronze medal and $1,000 to add to their bank accounts.

Relive the entire evening above. Winners are in bold type below.


Frank Bidart, Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison (University of Akron Press)

WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf)

In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae (Wesleyan University Press)

Don’t Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith (Graywolf)

Young People’s Literature:

What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold (Lerner/Carolrhoda Lab)

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (HarperTeen)

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (Knopf)

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/Amistad)

American Street by Ibi Zoboi (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)


Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Atria/37 INK)

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster)

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen (Riverhead)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (Doubleday)

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean (Viking)


Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman (Knopf)

The Leavers by Lisa Ko (Algonquin)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central)

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf)

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Scribner)