Thank god for Larry Wilmore. It’s hard to imagine spending an evening eight days after Trump’s election with any of the other people who recently hosted the NBAs (I’m really talking about Andy Borowitz and Mika Brzezinski.) But Wilmore’s presence suggests that the night should be genuinely entertaining and maybe even cathartic. When I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago—back when a very different outcome was anticipated—Wilmore promised he would be himself, saying, “You know, it’s me. What am I supposed to do? Act like I’m not me?”
The winners in the two biggest categories of the night, fiction and nonfiction, will almost certainly keep the evening political—as will the lifetime achievement prize, which is going to Robert Caro. (Caro has signaled a reluctance to talk about current events, but we’ll see what happens.) Upsets are always in the cards at the NBAs, but this year The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s brilliant and fantastical novel set in antebellum America, is pretty much a lock.
Meanwhile, the books in the nonfiction category cover the American right wing, the Vietnam War, the Attica Prison uprising, the enslavement of Indians in America, and the history of racism. Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right are the favorites. But if the award was decided in the last week, Hochschild will almost certainly win.
The National Book Awards are usually a time for the publishing industry’s biggest wigs to celebrate themselves—and then cede the dance floor to their younger, underpaid underlings. That sense of self-importance sometimes results in a lot of eye-rolling. But this year might be a little different, thanks to Wilmore and the likely honorees. And, of course, Donald Trump.