In addition to the awards announced Wednesday, the National Book Foundation presented two Lifetime Achievement Awards. Rita Dove received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Literature for her works, including 11 collections of poetry. Dove was the first black poet laureate. The American Literature Award in the 1990s was awarded to Paul Yamazaki, a major buyer at San Francisco City Lights Booksellers and Publishers, for distinguished service to the American literary community.
The topic of the war between Israel and Gaza comes up from time to time. Poet Heid E. Erdrich introduced the poetry laureate, noting that “human suffering in Gaza is our greatest concern” and stating that “poetry is our concern.” Working through our grief. “
In the days leading up to the awards ceremony, there were rumors that a group of finalists planned to make some kind of statement about the war in Gaza, but sponsors and organizers had no idea what that might mean. two sponsors, Zibby Media and Book of the Month decided not to participate in the awards ceremony, with Zibby Media canceling its sponsorship entirely.
It’s not unusual for politics and global events to drive conversations and speeches at the National Book Awards. In the past, winners have spoken out against racism in America, the lack of diversity in the publishing industry and the threat to free speech caused by book bans.
Since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel and Israel’s subsequent military operation in Gaza, literary and cultural institutions have been thinking about how to respond to the conflict. Recently, some literary events have been interrupted or canceled. , pro-Palestinian demonstrators interrupted a literary awards ceremony in Canada, at one point taking to the podium and holding up a sign accusing Scotiabank, which funds the Scotiabank Giller Prize, of funding genocide. Several events featuring Palestinian artists and writers were canceled or postponed, including the Frankfurt Book Fair.
The collective call for a ceasefire drew applause from some National Book Awards attendees, but the rhetoric did not appear to be as polarizing or damaging as organizers feared.On Tuesday, amid reports that some sponsors planned to skip the awards ceremony, the National Book Foundation released statement in an effort to quell the simmering controversy, noting that the recipients have made political statements in the past.