National Book Awards 2022 Winners and Controversies


Justin Torres, Ned Blackhawk, and Dan Santat among the winners of National Book Awards. Controversies arise over the content of nominee statements and sponsor support.

Justin Torres’ Novel Wins Fiction Award

Justin Torres’ novel “Blackouts” has won the National Book Award for fiction. The novel blends history and imagination in its recounting of a censored study of gay sexuality.

Other Winners and Their Works

Ned Blackhawk’s “The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History” won the nonfiction prize, and Dan Santat’s “A First Time for Everything” won in the young people’s literature category. Craig Santos Perez’s “from incorporated territory (åmot)” was cited for best poetry, and Stênio Gardel’s “The Words That Remain” won for literature in translation.

Controversy Surrounding Nominee Statements

During the award ceremony, the authors presented a statement about the Israel-Hamas war, which was read by fiction nominee Aaliyah Bilal. The statement condemned the “ongoing bombardment of Gaza,” antisemitism, anti-Palestinian sentiments, and Islamophobia, and called for a humanitarian cease-fire. The authors received a standing ovation after Bilal finished. Sponsor Zibby Media had withdrawn support over concerns the statement might be antisemitic and anti-Israel.

Oprah Winfrey’s Keynote Address

Oprah Winfrey gave an emotional keynote address at the dinner ceremony, quoting from favorite works and condemning censorship of books as an act of isolating people into ‘soulless echo chambers.’

LeVar Burton’s Reflection and Symbolism

Event host LeVar Burton and Winfrey, both descended from enslaved people, reflected on their roles as symbols for literacy and literature. They highlighted the importance of self-expression and the right to read.

Financial Support and Fundraising

Winners in the competitive categories received $10,000 each, and the event raised over $1 million for the National Book Foundation, which oversees the awards. Booksellers and other judges select winners from a pool of more than 1,900 submitted works.

Literary Celebration and Overlapping Current Events

Over the years, the National Book Awards have celebrated literature while commenting on relevant events. This year’s theme highlighted self-expression, voices silenced and raised, and the power of literature to articulate unexpressed disturbances.

Controversies and Impact on Participants

The decision to drop original host Drew Barrymore and the withdrawal of sponsor support from Zibby Media reflected controversies and tensions surrounding the event. Some nominees and sponsors took a stand or withdrew support due to disagreements with the content of nominee statements.

The Role of Fiction and Author’s Perspectives

Many winners and nominees spoke of using books to champion their communities and bring attention to overlooked or oppressed groups. They emphasized the power of fiction to shed light on various communities and promote empathy and understanding.