The 16 Most Powerful Quotes About Books & Reading From The 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony
Every year, the National Book Awards Ceremony brings together a star-studded cast of authors and readers to bestow the highest honors in U.S. publishing on a few lucky authors. Naturally, the 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony was full of great quotes about the power of books and how readers can change the world. I've collected some of the best quotes from the 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony for you to enjoy below, so keep reading and scrolling, book nerds.
On Wednesday evening, the authors of 20 nominated books — five each from the Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature categories — waited to learn whether they would take home the $10,000 monetary award and bronze statuette given to each winner. This year's winners were:
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward in Fiction
- The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen in Nonfiction
- Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart in Poetry
- Far from the Tree by Robin Benway in Young People's Literature
Additionally, Scholastic President and CEO Dick Robinson received the National Book Foundation's Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, and Barkskins author Annie Proulx became the newest recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
Each of the hosts, judges, and authors had something profound to say about the power of books. Many spoke to literature's particular role in the U.S. at at time when uncertainty and distrust cloud our social, economic, and political interactions. There was talk of how books can make us more empathetic, how they can educate and inspire our children, and how they can help us resist the dangerous and cruel narratives that have begun to take over public discourse.
At a time when people who are not white, not male, not cisgender, not heterosexual, not able-bodied, not Christian, and not American are publicly scorned by political officials at every level of government, stories matter. Black stories matter. Women's stories matter. Hispanic stories matter. Jewish stories matter. Muslim stories matter. Asian stories matter. Stories of disability matter. LGBTQIAP+ stories matter. Immigrant stories matter. In selecting their winners, from the 40-book longlist to the four titles that each won $10,000 Wednesday night, the National Book Foundation and its judges have shown that readers' eyes, ears, and wallets should be turned toward the margins.
Check out the 16 best quotes about the power of books from the 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony that I've picked out below, and be sure to share your favorites with me on Twitter!
"It's important to me now, as I expect it's important to all of you, that we perpetuate a culture that values and celebrates literature and the worlds that books are able to open to us."
— Cynthia Nixon, host of the 2017 National Book Awards Ceremony
"In my early 20s, I became an English teacher in a good high school, and discovered that, while about a third of my students could read well enough, most of them really didn't want to read, or did not read confidently, often because the books they were assigned were not connected to their lives. So this became a personal challenge to me: How could I get more kids to read? ... Today, we are keenly aware that the children in U.S. schools are more economically diverse than ever before. Fifty percent of the children are of color. More effort needs to be made to find a wide range of diverse experiences in order to reach [Scholastic's] goal of reading for all."
— Dick Robinson, Scholastic President and CEO, and winner of the National Book Foundation's Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community
"We are richer because of the deceptively simple, precise, devastating poetry of Ms. Proulx, poetry like: 'The shirt seemed heavy until he saw there was another shirt inside it, the sleeves carefully worked down inside Jack's sleeves. It was his own plaid shirt, lost, he’d thought, long ago in some damn laundry, his dirty shirt, the pocket ripped, buttons missing, stolen by Jack and hidden here inside Jack’s own shirt, the pair like two skins, one inside the other, two in one.' Ms. Proulx, the dress I was wearing when I met my husband lives tucked inside the shirt he was wearing when he met me, thanks to you."
— Anne Hathaway, presenter of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
"Although this award is a lifetime achievement award, I didn't start writing until I was 58. So, if you've been thinking about it and putting it off, go ahead."
— Annie Proulx, author of Barkskins and The Shipping News, winner of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters
"The book that changed my life, I came across it because of a National Book Award sticker."
— Ibi Zoboi, author of American Street
"Writing is sort of a lonely business. And to have yourself recognized, to have your work recognized, by other writers, that really means something."
— Robert Caro, author of the 2002 National Book Award for Nonfiction winner, Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson
"Thank you so much for making books. Thank you so much for reading books. Thank you so much for believing in us. And thank you so much for believing in books."
— Lisa Lucas, Executive Director of the National Book Foundation
"The books we read as young people are sacred. And they're sacred because they guide us through growing up, and they remain imprinted on us for a lifetime. These are the books that shape how young people see themselves and the world."
— Meg Medina, author of Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Chair of the 2017 National Book Award for Young People's Literature Judges
"The poem can be a ripple that advances and retreats, finding its own resonance, pulling more and more into its pattern, changing into an unstoppable tide."
— Monica Youn, author of Blackacre, Chair of the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry Judges
"One premise of art is that anything personal, seen deeply enough, becomes general, becomes impersonal."
— Frank Bidart, author of Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry
"Books ... are among the most powerful weapons we have against what has lately felt like an often hostile world. ... For some of us, books provide a welcome escape into someone else's world. For others they serve as a valuable resource for arming ourselves with indispensable knowledge of history. But all books offer something we need so desperately right now: broadened perspective."
— Cynthia Nixon
"We don't live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafka-esque time. ... For some, this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others, this is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending."
— Annie Proulx
"[The books we chose] were books that spoke to the tyranny of the state — through those who perpetuate it, through those who succumb to it, and through those who resist."
— Paula J. Giddings, author of Ida, A Sword Among Lions, Chair of the 2017 National Book Award for Nonfiction Judges
"I've watched the National Book Foundation change over the years, and this is one of the most diverse and beautiful rooms I've ever been inside of."
— Jacqueline Woodson, author of Another Brooklyn, Chair of the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction Judges
"Throughout my career, when I have been rejected, there was sometimes subtext, and it was this: 'People will not read your work because these are not universal stories.' I don't know whether some doorkeepers felt this way because I wrote about poor people, or because I wrote about black people, or because I wrote about Southerners. As my career progressed ... I still encountered that mindset every now and again. I still find myself having uncomfortable conversations with reluctant readers who initially didn't want to read my work, because they said, 'What do I have in common with a pregnant 15-year-old?' ... You answered: 'Plenty.'"
— Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing, winner of the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction
"Books allow us to view circumstances through the eyes of someone else. The cultivate empathy. They inspire action. They make us feel less alone, and expose us to an experience we couldn't imagine on our own. Books matter, and tonight helps remind us of that."
— Cynthia Nixon