Coates gave an exceptional speech, dedicating the award to the memory of his friend Prince Jones, who was murdered by a police officer 15 years ago. “I have been waiting 15 years for this moment. When Prince Jones died there were no cameras, there was nobody else watching. I’m a black man in America. I can’t punish that officer ... Between the World and Me comes out of that place.”
Johnson, a dark horse candidate, seemed surprised that he had won. His speech focused mainly on his time as a National Book Award judge and on the other nominees, whom he praised effusively.
Neil Shusterman won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for Challenger Deep, a novel about a teenager dealing with schizophrenia who struggles with his condition aboard a ship bound for the Marianas Trench. Shusterman began with the night’s best joke—“I finally achieved my father’s dream for me—to be an NBA star”—before speaking movingly about his son’s struggle with mental illness, which inspired the book.
Robin Coste Lewis won the National Book Award for Poetry for Voyage of the Sable Venus, “a meditation on the cultural depiction of the black female figure.”
One year after Daniel Handler made a racist remark presenting the National Book Awards, three of the four awardees were African-American.