Susan Choi and Sarah M. Broom win National Book Awards

Susan Choi, author of  the novel "Trust Exercise."
(Heather Weston)

Author Susan Choi and debut memoirist Sarah M. Broom took home the top honors — fiction and nonfiction, respectively — at the 2019 National Book Awards on Wednesday night in New York.

Choi won the fiction award for her fifth novel, “Trust Exercise,” which captures the intense relationships among a group of friends at a performing arts high school in the ‘80s. The book has been praised for blurring the lines between art and reality.

Choi, a graduate of a performing arts high school in Houston, told The Times earlier this year, “It was shockingly easy to time travel to that period of life. It was interesting psychologically to be trapped in the mind-set while writing but to have the perspective to recognize what a trap it was.”

In her speech at the gala, Choi expressed her gratitude: “Given what we’re all facing today I find it an astonishing privilege what I get to do every day. I get to lead a life centered on books and bring other people into that world.”

The nonfiction award went to Broom for her New Orleans-based debut, “The Yellow House.” Reviewer Lynell George called the book “both personal and sharply political; it’s an attempt to redraw not just the map of New Orleans but also the city’s narrative.”


George also noted: “Pared down to its studs, ‘The Yellow House’ is a love story. It is a declaration of unconditional devotion and commitment to place. Broom also pays homage to the relationships we protect, the ones we yearn for and circle back to; the ones that hold us and don’t give up on us, that are our living and breathing foundation.”

Martin W. Sandler, who has written 60 books, was named the winner in the young people’s literature category for “1919 The Year That Changed America.”

The winner in the poetry category was Arthur Sze (“Sight Lines”), who spoke about his long-term partnership with publisher Copper Canyon Press.

László Krasznahorkai and his translator Ottilie Mulzet (“Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming”) won the prize for translated literature, a National Book Awards category added for the first time last year.

Edmund White was presented a pre-announced lifetime achievement award, introduced by John Waters. Oren J. Teicher, chief executive of the American Booksellers Assn., was given the Literarian Award, honored by fellow bookseller Ann Patchett.

The event was emceed by LeVar Burton, host of “Reading Rainbow” and costar of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Winners of National Book Awards receive a bronze statue and a $10,000 cash prize (in the translated literature category, the author and translator split the money).

Here is the complete list of 2019 National Book Award finalists announced in October:

Fiction finalists
Susan Choi, “Trust Exercise”
Kali Fajardo-Anstine, “Sabrina & Corina: Stories”
Marlon James, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”
Laila Lalami, “The Other Americans”
Julia Phillips, “Disappearing Earth”

Sarah M. Broom, “The Yellow House”
Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Thick: And Other Essays”
Carolyn Forché, “What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance”
David Treuer, “The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present”
Albert Woodfox with Leslie George, “Solitary”

Jericho Brown, “The Tradition”
Toi Derricotte, “‘I’: New and Selected Poems”
Ilya Kaminsky, “Deaf Republic”
Carmen Giménez Smith, “Be Recorder”
Arthur Sze, “Sight Lines”

Translated literature
Khaled Khalifa, “Death Is Hard Work,” translated from Arabic by Leri Price
László Krasznahorkai, “Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming,” translated from Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet
Scholastique Mukasonga, “The Barefoot Woman,” translated from French by Jordan Stump
Yoko Ogawa, “The Memory Police,” translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Pajtim Statovci, “Crossing,” translated from Finnish by David Hackston

Young people’s literature
Akwaeke Emezi, “Pet”
Jason Reynolds, “Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks”
Randy Ribay, “Patron Saints of Nothing”
Laura Ruby, “Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All”
Martin W. Sandler, “1919 The Year That Changed America”