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Book Awards Honor Translated Literature For The First Time Since 1983

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The National Book Awards had a really international feel last night. Perhaps that's because for the first time since 1983, there was an award for translated literature, and also because one of the lifetime achievement awards went to Isabel Allende, who spoke about what it was like to live in many different countries. NPR's Lynn Neary went to the awards ceremony and has this report.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Whether you're a debut author or an old hand at prizes, being on the short list for a National Book Award is a big deal. Christopher Paul Curtis, nominated for young people's literature for "The Journey Of Little Charlie," is a two-time Newbery honoree. But this was the first time he had a chance to win a National Book Award.

CHRISTOPHER PAUL CURTIS: I don't know how many times I've said, eh, who wants that award, anyway? But now I know. Me.

NEARY: The other nominees included Jennifer Croft, translator of Olga Tokarczuk's novel, "Flights." Croft believes translated literature is more important now than ever.

JENNIFER CROFT: People are needing to understand others who are different from themselves. We have a refugee crisis that's impacting the entire world. And this is something that people are thinking about and being mindful of in a new way.

NEARY: The eventual winner of the translation award was "The Emissary" by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani. Isabel Allende received an award for distinguished contribution to American letters. She, too, spoke of the international refugee crisis, reminding the audience of how quickly the world forgot the searing image of a Syrian child whose body washed up on a beach.

ISABEL ALLENDE: I write to preserve memory against the erosion of oblivion and to bring people together. I believe in the power of stories. If we listen to another person's story, if we tell our own story, we start to heal from division and hatred.

NEARY: Allende spoke of feeling like an outsider, as did Elizabeth Acevedo, winner of the young people's literature award for "The Poet X."

ELIZABETH ACEVEDO: I walk through the world with a chip on my shoulder. I go into so many spaces where I feel like I have to prove that I am allowed to be in that space. As the child of immigrants, as a black woman, as a Latina, as someone whose accented voice holds certain neighborhoods, whose body holds certain stories, I always feel like I have to prove that I am worthy enough.

NEARY: Acevedo said it is when she meets her readers that she understands why she writes and why reading matters so much. Sigrid Nunez, who won the fiction prize for her novel, "The Friend," also spoke of the sense of community an introvert like herself can find among other readers and writers.

SIGRID NUNEZ: How lucky to have discovered that writing books made the miraculous possible, to be removed from the world and to be a part of the world at the same time. And tonight, how happy I am to feel like a part of the world. Thank you so much.

(APPLAUSE)

NEARY: Other winners last night were Justin Phillip Reed for his poetry collection, "Indecency," and Jeffrey C. Stewart, who won the nonfiction prize for "The New Negro: The Life Of Alain Locke." Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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