This was the second annual National Book Awards ceremony held remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, with Ms. Robinson recording from the Penguin Random House headquarters in New York City and authors and presenters beaming in remotely. In years past, hundreds of attendees celebrated at a black-tie gala at Cipriani Wall Street.
“If there were ever a time that underscored the extraordinary experiences that books provide,” said Ruth Dickey, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, “it has been these past 20 months.”
The finalists for the fiction award included “Matrix,” by Lauren Groff, about an orphaned young woman who transforms a destitute nunnery; “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” by Anthony Doerr, a novel that encompasses several centuries, two continents and one interstellar ship; “Zorrie,” by Laird Hunt, a portrait of a woman’s life in rural Indiana; and “The Prophets,” by Robert Jones Jr., a love story about two enslaved men set on an antebellum plantation.
Nonfiction finalists included “A Little Devil in America,” an essay collection by Hanif Abdurraqib celebrating Black performers and artists; “Running Out,” by Lucas Bessire, about a Kansas aquifer at risk of depletion and its impact on the area’s farmers and ranchers; “Tastes Like War,” a memoir by Grace M. Cho, who cooks family recipes while exploring how war, xenophobia and colonialism are carried in the body; and “Covered With Night,” by Nicole Eustace, about the 18th-century murder case of an Indigenous hunter.
Martín Espada won the award for poetry for “Floaters,” a book that honors migrants who drowned in the Rio Grande. Judges said it was “vital for our times and will be vital for those in the future, trying to make sense of today.”
The award for translated literature went to “Winter in Sokcho,” a debut novel by Elisa Shua Dusapin and translated from French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins that is set at a South Korean resort.